Jeff Gordon seeks 4th straight at Sears Point

Jun 19, 2001 10:21 AM

Southern NASCAR fans frown at the thought of stock cars racing on road courses, but the rest of the racing world looks forward to NASCAR’s two annual road course events. World wide, most forms of competitive motor-sports are done on courses which test all facets of a driver’s skill. NASCAR is the only major sanctioning body that does most of their racing on ovals.

Obviously, the success of NASCAR shows people like oval racing. It’s fun to watch, but the skills of a driver never come out more than they do on the road courses. There are many variables added to the equation of road course stock car racing besides just having a fast car, and nearly every one of those rests with the driver. Being able to take the turns, left and right, at maximum speed rests solely on the driver and is the key to winning. Most of the big name NASCAR drivers have never been able to figure it out, making International racing fans highbrow America’s top racing circuit. Some of the car owners have even gone so far as to replace their regular drivers with drivers that possess the skills needed to compete.

International race fans have made an exception when discussing the poor skills of American stock car drivers, and that is Jeff Gordon. Coming into this weekend’s race at Sears Point where Gordon has won the last three events, he has a total of six wins in the last seven road course races. He has the unmatched combination of great skills, track knowledge, and car. He surely would have made it seven straight if it weren’t for Tony Stewart taking him out on the first few laps of Watkins Glen last year.

So what makes Gordon so superior on the road courses? We asked two Las Vegas bookmakers their opinions after installing Gordon a 7-5 favorite for this weekend’s race.

"Gordon grew up in all kinds of racing environments," says Palace Station’s Rob Terry. "He’s done it all from the sprints, to most importantly the go-karts. NASCAR is a still a southern based league and most of its drivers are from the south where road courses are not common place."

Mandalay Bay’s Hugh Citron agrees with Terry, but to a more extreme extent. "Gordon is just flat out the most skilled driver in NASCAR. He may be the best driver in NASCAR history based solely on his diversity. He has equals on a various tracks, but none as a whole, and none especially on the roads."

Gordon does have an extreme advantage as Terry points out because of his pre-NASCAR days. The best way to do well, is getting track time on the road. Unfortunately for most of the Winston Cup drivers, there are only two races a season on the roads, making it difficult to catch up with someone who’s had a life of experience on road courses.

So who can challenge Gordon this week at Sears Point? The list of Winston Cup regulars is short, but when adding in a few of the hired assassins things could get interesting.

The hired assassins are the drivers that will take over for only the road course events. Ron Fellows (10-1), Scott Pruett (45-1), Robby Gordon (45-1), Brian Simo (35-1), and Boris Said (35-1) will take over regular Winston Cup cars in attempt to topple Jeff Gordon and the other Cup regulars.

Fellows, who’ll be driving the Joe Nemechek-owned Chevy, has perhaps the best chance at winning among the hired assassins. Fellows has had four wins in NASCAR’s Busch and Truck series on the road courses, but has yet to win on the Cup level which remains his top goal as a driver. He’s won at every level in road course racing, winning this year’s Rolex 24 hours of Daytona along with 20 career SCCA Trans Am series wins. In his five starts of Winston Cup Road racing, his best finish was second to Gordon in ”˜99. Fellows chance’s rest with Nemechek’s car. Last year at the Glen, Fellows had problems immediately with the gearbox and eventually engine troubles. If the car stays on the track, Fellows will stay close to Gordon.

The top Cup regulars to give Gordon a run are Ricky Rudd (6-1), Mark Martin (5-1), Rusty Wallace (7-1), and Jerry Nadeau (10-1).

Nadeau’s name may seem far-fetched, but his pre-NASCAR days give him an edge and talent for the roads that most of the others lack. His sports car racing days in Europe make him feel like home on the roads. He also has the benefit of getting some tips from his Dupont teammates on how to best set up his car.

Ricky Rudd is coming off an impressive win at Pocono. He has three career wins on road courses in 27 starts and has finished in the top five in 13 of those. At Sears Point, the Yates engine will be beneficial to him climbing those hills and his natural skills will take over around the turns. He has the most realistic shot at knocking Gordon off.

Mark Martin has been missing in action all season. The top five’s that were a staple in his career don’t come around any more. This week, things will be different. In 25 career road course events, Martin has finished in the top ten 22 times, winning four. He finished second and third in both events last season, a season that mirrors 2001 somewhat. Martin is a bulldog, and sets up the other drivers for passing on the turns and straights better than anyone.

He’ll be there to contend for the win.

PREDICTED TOP 5:
1) Jeff Gordon (7-5)
2) Ron Fellows (10-1)
3) Ricky Rudd (6-1)
4) Mark Martin (5-1)
5) Jerry Nadeau (10-1)

Sunset Station’s Fred Crespi has put up an interesting prop this week for the Station properties. The prop asks you to choose who will have the better finish, Jeff Gordon or any driver in a Ford or Dodge. Gordon is a -190 favorite.

"Obviously Gordon is going to be tough to beat," Crespi says. "The question we had to ask is how can we get anyone to bet against him. It started with a few drivers matched up against him like a Tiger Woods type of prop and eventually we thought to make it enticing, we’d just throw in two manufacturers as a whole against him. This is a Michael Schumacher F-1 kind of thing."