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Jeff Gordon: the new 'boss wrangler' at Texas? On the pole...at one of NASCAR's most dangerous tracks

  Can Jeff Gordon sweep Texas? He's on the pole for Sunday's start (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   FORT WORTH, Texas

   It may be too late for Jeff Gordon to catch teammate Jimmie Johnson in this year's title chase. Making up 192 points on the three-time Sprint Cup champion in these final three races of the season is nigh impossible.
   But at least Gordon can go out with a bang. And Friday he won the pole for Sunday's Texas Dickies 500, with a sizzling lap at 191.117 mph, on a hot, slick afternoon, when the second-turn proved a dangerous corner.
   Jeff Burton was the day's most prominent casualty over there, and he promptly pulled out of Saturday's Nationwide race, after getting his bell rung. (It is unclear what NASCAR's policy is on having a driver get a medical MRI or CT scan after a hard hit.)
   Texas Motor Speedway has long been one of the weakest spots in Gordon's game, but he won here in the spring, and appears on target to repeat.
   "We're focused on ending this season on the strongest note we can," Gordon says.
   "But this is a very tricky track. The straights are very flat, compared to the banking in the corners. Plus there are some bumps. The corners are fast, and the turns are tight, and the walls come out at you very, very quickly.
   "So it's not an easy track. And when we won here in the spring, it wasn't an easy race; there were times when the car was pretty out of control. We expect a lot of that here Sunday."
   This track is where Gordon had one of the hardest crashes of his career. This is the track where Ricky Craven, then Gordon's teammate, had his worst crash, suffering a serious concussion that affected his career. And this is the track where Michael McDowell had that vicious crash.
   The weather is quite warm and sunny, which makes the track slick.
   But Burton says his problem was apparently in the power steering: "I just couldn't turn it. It went straight…like it blew a right-front tire. But it didn't blow a right-front. I just couldn't get it turned.
    "It missed the soft wall, and hit the back, then smacked the front.
    "It dazed me.  I'm okay. My head hurts. Just kind of a crappy way to start off."
    Skipping the Saturday race? "I feel good enough to do it," Burton insisted. But car owner Richard Childress "made the call," Burton said. "I'm good with that. We don't want to do something that will jeopardize me, and Richard made that call. He did that solely for my well-being.
   "I don't like it, but I appreciate the hell out of it, because he just wants to make sure I don't do something stupid. Richard is wiser than I am, and if that is what he says we need to do, that is what we need to do."
   What has turned things around for Gordon at this track?
   "I don't think we got credit for how well we ran in the first three or four races here," Gordon points out. "We had the best car for just about every one of those races, and we just had crazy, weird things happen to us.
   "But it just started a trend of not good results, and that continued.
   "And then there a period when we were just terrible. Yet when there is a track that challenges us like this place did, it inspires us to work harder and to get better – me as a driver, and the team. It's a team effort, and if I don't like what I feel in the car, we can't just put a teammate's setup in the car, that just doesn't work…and we tried it.
   "Last year we were out of the chase, and we started doing some testing, and it's paid off. And we've built on that."

    Gordon confirmed Friday he was one of the drivers who went to NASCAR officials before the Talladega 500 to complain about bump-drafting, which led to NASCAR's no-bumping announcement in the pre-race drivers' meeting.
   "Bump-drafting through the corners is ridiculous," Gordon says. "I think the reason guys got to the end of that race more so than we've seen in the past is because we weren't pushing one another through the corners.  I think that was a big positive.  
   "They created a car (the COT) that you can get up there (to the front) any time you want. But you go back and forth, back and forth, and  eventually guys say 'We have 500 miles to go; we need to just sit here and ride.'
    "That's what everybody appeared to do. 
     "It's happened the last few times we've been there.  
      "It's unfortunate when we get single-file like that; at Talladega we know what kind of race we can put on. 
      "At the same time you know you've got to try to get to the end, 500 miles. That's the box that you've been put in."
   At least there shouldn't be any bump-drafting controversies here, and maybe NASCAR officials won't find themselves in the line of fire, as they were at Talladega.
   But where to find any news at all in this sport, with Johnson running away to another title and close to clinching the title even before the Homestead finale?
   Well, maybe Danica Patrick.
   Yes, things may be that desperate in this sport at the moment.
   Patrick's business agents have been working the NASCAR world hard most of the year, trying to put together a part-time NASCAR deal for the Indy-car star for 2010. And it appears Rick Hendrick has had the inside line on signing her since June. Patrick hasn't said much herself about all this, but she did visit several stock car racing shops in August to check things out, and Tony Stewart, an Indy-car man once himself, says when he talked with her she was flat-serious about doing some NASCAR, perhaps something full-time by 2011.
   At the moment the line is that Hendrick may sign her to a two-year contract for a package of maybe 12 to 15 races in 2010, including some ARCA, Trucks and Nationwide, as 'teammate' with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the JR Motorsports venture that Hendrick and Earnhardt jointly own.
   What has limited Patrick's NASCAR options is that she has insisted on continuing to run the full Indy Racing League tour, and she just signed a new IRL contract with Michael Andretti. That has many NASCAR team owners leery of Patrick, worried she won't have the dedication and fire it takes to learn this form of racing.
    Patrick's NASCAR deal would apparently be for $50,000 to $100,000 a race. And apparently her price has come down considerably over the summer and fall.
    The season-long debate about Patrick-in-NASCAR has become rather tiring lately, particularly for drivers who have been peppered with questions about 'Can she make it in this sport?' After all she's only about a sixth-place running the IRL, where there are only a few top teams to contend with, and she has only that single win, and that in a gas mileage race in Japan.
    "She's never going to know what it's like to drive one of these cars until she gets out there and does it in competition," Gordon says. "I give her credit for trying. You can only wait and see how it goes. But I don't like commenting any further on rumors until they make that announcement."
   The announcement is expected probably at the end of the season, perhaps at the Las Vegas banquet.
    Carl Edwards: "Here's the deal -- If Danica Patrick could come over here to NASCAR and run well, it would be great for the sport, and it would be great for the sponsors that she brings over here. 
    "The fans would love it.
    "So the better she does over here, the better it is for the sport."
     But then she's never even tried to run a stock car anywhere, so there are a number of those who think she has little chance of success in NASCAR. After all there are many drivers who have tried NASCAR and failed, like Dario Franchitti.
   Juan Pablo Montoya's success is the rarity.
   "Juan Montoya is the best example of a guy who has huge talent, who has had success in other things, and was able to do this," Edwards says.  "He's as good as any of us here now.
   "If she doesn't do it, I don't think it would be a huge surprise…but I hope she does well.
    "I've never driven an Indy-car…But these (stock) cars are different than almost anything else out there. So the more time you can spend in these heavier cars, the better. 
    "That will take a little while."


Gordon is a liar. "I think

Gordon is a liar. "I think the reason we got through to the end.....is because we weren't bumping through the corners." No Jeff - you got through the same in April as you did here in November.

This is why the drivers have no credibility. Gordon and others lobbied NASCAR for no reason.

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