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Tuesday, March 26
More than just racing
By Robby Gordon
Special to ESPN.com
Bristol is one of the most anticipated races of the year for the teams and the fans. I think the fans definitely got their money's worth this time around -- there was good, hard racing and some good "self-expression" amongst the drivers afterward. But that usually comes at a price in the NASCAR garage.
Our weekend did get off to a great start Friday, though. The No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevy was a little loose in the middle of the corners in the first practice Friday, so my crew changed the air pressures and made a few chassis adjustments to tighten it up. We were pretty good in practice, but never dreamed we'd be good enough to sit on the outside pole in qualifying!
I just concentrated on letting off the gas at the right time going into the corners and the Cingular Chevy hugged the bottom of the race track well. We were on the pole for most of qualifying until Jeff Gordon knocked us off at the very end. Everyone thought it was pretty cool that we'd start side-by-side on Sunday and was looking for lots of exciting racing.
"Thunder Valley" is often called the world's fastest half-mile track and I proved that when I went a little too fast on the first lap, jumping the start and passing the pole sitter before he took the green flag. That landed me a trip to pit road for a stop-and-go penalty that dropped Team Cingular to the 39th position. I'll admit I got too eager and when Jeff slowed down before he took the green flag he snookered me and I kept digging. But we knew we had a car capable of running up front and we put our minds to making up that lost ground and moved into the 18th spot by lap 133.
It was back to square one for us when a rough bump by Dale Jr., on lap 148 sent the Cingular Wireless Chevy up the track for a loss of 15 spots. We were on the lead lap at the time and didn't see any reason for him to do that. But we moved back into 22nd by lap 342 -- still on the lead lap.
However, another car booted us in the rear end on lap 343 when the caution flag was thrown for an accident ahead on the track. The other guy didn't get slowed down in time and smacked into the Cingular car and sent me spinning around. In the meantime, while we spun, the leader passed us on the track on his way to take the caution flag and put us down a lap. Talk about a bad lap for the Cingular team -- and none of it our fault.
We tried like heck to get our lap back several times and ran with the top two cars for the final 100 laps, but never could quite get a good enough run on the leader to make up the lost lap. We finished in the 20th spot, but the action didn't stop there. Dale Jr. and I made contact on pit road following the cool-down lap.
That's putting it nicely, I guess. Junior came off the track and headed onto pit road and tried to run me into the pit lane wall. So, I hit him back pretty hard. I don't know why he did that. He hit me twice before I hit him. He was mad because I wouldn't get out of his way near the end of the race when I was one lap down. But I was very close to making up that lap and if we had gotten another caution, I might have been able to do that and get myself some more positions and more points. I didn't hurt his car or push him out of the way during the race like he did to me. I was just trying to keep as few cars between me and the leader as possible so I could put myself in the position to make the lap up if the opportunity arose.
This is a competitive sport and if you don't stand up for yourself, you'll get walked all over. Looking back at it, I wish I hadn't run into his car on pit road because people could have gotten hurt. That was a mistake and that was the reason NASCAR put me on probation. He didn't get probation because he was closer to the track-end of pit road when he hit me and tried to push me into pit wall. But what comes around goes around.
Ideally, we should have handled the situation outside the cars so no one would be in danger and the crew wouldn't be mad at me for tearing up the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet.
But what's done is done and we're heading into an off-weekend. I'm not really sure what, if anything, I'm doing this weekend. I'd love to go to California and visit with my family and friends, but I've also got a lot to get done in North Carolina.
I really am looking forward to having the weekend off. We're only six races into the season, but look at everything we've packed into these six races! I just hope that by the time we get to Texas, all this will have settled down and Team Cingular can concentrate just on the race ahead. But that's what off-weekends are for, aren't they?
Robby Gordon drives the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. He will be providing a diary to ESPN.com throughout the Winston Cup season.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
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