Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Keeping the Wheels on the Road; Pole-Sitter Jeff Gordon Says Staying on Course Will Decide Victory Today

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Keeping the Wheels on the Road; Pole-Sitter Jeff Gordon Says Staying on Course Will Decide Victory Today

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE, The Times-Union

SONOMA, Calif. -- It will take a lot more than a fast car, strong engine and a bulletproof transmission to survive today's Dodge/Save Mart 350 at the Infineon Raceway, much less win it.

"I think staying on [the] race course is going to be the key to [today's] race," said Jeff Gordon.

The 1.99-mile road course in the heart of Napa Valley wine country has 11 turns and several elevation changes. New asphalt was supposed to give the picturesque course a lot of grip, but it's turned most of it into a giant slip-and-slide.

Many drivers had troubles during pole qualifying, including Gordon. He got all four wheels off course in the 10th turn. He never cracked the throttle, though, and he set the track record at 94.303 mph.

"This has always been a track that's not easy," he said after winning his fourth pole position at the first of two road course venues on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. "It's very finicky. You can't really max-brake anywhere. You can't attack the racetrack. You have to have a lot of patience."

A couple drivers have a diagram of the course taped to their dashboard. Another has a compass, with joking instructions to head north if they get lost.

While some of those tricks trigger laughter, trying to stay on the pavement is no laughing matter.

Defending race winner Robby Gordon slipped during his qualifying run; current points leader Jimmie Johnson also spun out. So did Ricky Craven, Brian Vickers and Scott Riggs.

Jeff Gordon said his pole position will be important today because the new pavement makes it even harder to pass.

"With the new pavement, starting up front is more important than it ever has been before," he said. "It's already tough to pass. There are only two passing zones at this track: Going into Turn 7 and going into Turn 11. …

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