Sunday, June 13, 2004

Poor finishes won't deter 4-time champion

Nextel Cup: Pocono 500

By Dan Gelston
The Associated Press

LONG POND, Pa. - Jeff Gordon puts the discouraging finishes in his rearview mirror as easily as he does his victories.

Gordon refuses to dwell on what goes right or wrong in one race when another is just around the turn. Still, Gordon knows that has been tougher to do after finishing 30th in Charlotte, then 36th last week in Dover.

"We obviously can't continue this streak like this," said Gordon, who starts sixth today. "We have to have good runs."

Gordon was cruising toward another typical season after consecutive first-place finishes in Talladega and California and reached as high as third in the points standings.

But he ran into trouble in Richmond when his No. 24 Chevrolet looked nothing like that of a four-time Nextel Cup champion. Gordon said his car never felt right, and he fell a lap behind pace.

Last week at Dover, he blew a tire and hit the wall.

"Charlotte was far more disappointing than last weekend, because we just ran horrible," he said. "I'd rather blow a right front or crash running up front and have a shot at a win than run bad all day. Hopefully we got that one out of the way."

He'll find out today, where the 2 1/2-mile triangular track has been kind to the former Rainbow Warrior. Gordon won here in 1996 and 1997 and also won the Pennsylvania 500, held later in the summer, in 1998.

"If you look at past history, it's easy to say you must be looking forward to coming here," Gordon said. "That's why I'm so excited about this weekend, because we qualified well and the car is just really, really strong. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

No matter where he finished last week, or two weeks before, Gordon is always a contender.

"With Jeff, you can't count him out," said Jimmie Johnson, who drives for Gordon.

Not with 66 victories, 178 top-five finishes and earnings of nearly $61 million.

It has been 10 years since Gordon burst onto the scene with a win at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Since then, he has been one of the most consistent performers in NASCAR. That consistency carried into this year, when he reeled off five straight top-10 finishes, including the two wins.

The two first-place finishes and six top-10 finishes this season have Gordon fifth in the points standings. He needs to be in the top 10 in points after the 26th race to contend for the championship.

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