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Archive for Saturday, May 25, 2002

Gordon working double duty this weekend

May 25, 2002

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— Robby Gordon gets a little irritated when he hears people saying he hasn't really done the Memorial Day weekend double yet.

"They don't have me listed as doing the double in 2000," said Gordon, who has been hampered by weather in his two previous attempts to run both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, N.C., on the same day.

Gordon hopes to bury the criticism for good Sunday when he will try once again to complete 1,100 miles of racing in cities 400 miles apart.

He managed to run in both events on the same day in 2000, but wasn't able to start the stock car race and fell far short of the full complement of miles.

"We finished sixth here and went on to finish in Charlotte," Gordon said. "But I missed the first about 50 laps or so, so a lot of people don't count that."

John Andretti was the first to attempt the feat in 1994. He finished 10th in the 500, then wound up 36th in the race in suburban Charlotte after an early wreck and mechanical problems ended his day 180 laps short.

Andretti, whose uncle, Mario, won Indy in 1969 and whose cousin, Michael, is racing here Sunday, hasn't been back since.

Gordon, a former open-wheel driver who now has a full-time ride in NASCAR with Richard Childress Racing, in 1997 became the second driver to attempt the double.

Rain postponed Indy and Gordon finished 34th in the stock car race that night before flying back and racing to 29th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the next day.

A rain delay two years ago at Indy caused Gordon to miss the start of the NASCAR event. P.J. Jones subbed for Gordon in the stock car race, which was red-flagged due to rain after 261 of 400 laps at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

By the time the delay ended, Gordon was in the car and went on to finish 35th.

He had no Winston Cup ride last May, so Indy was his sole focus. Gordon started third in a car co-owned by John Menard and Childress, who hired him for his NASCAR team later in the year. An engine failure after 184 laps left him 21st.

Sunday, with no rain forecast at either venue, Gordon should have the chance to match Tony Stewart, who completed all 600 laps, finishing sixth in Indy and third in Charlotte, last May.

Stewart, a former Indy Racing League champion who covets an Indy 500 win, chose to stay in Charlotte this year, concentrating on the Winston Cup points battle and a possible $1 million bonus for winning the stock car race.

Gordon certainly doesn't mind doing the double solo.

"Sunday is going to be a huge day for me, but I think I'm ready for it," he said. "I've been working with the Childress team's trainer a bit and he's given me plenty of fluids and special energy drinks to prepare me."

The 33-year-old driver said he has been battling an energy-sapping head cold for more than a week and has put on about four pounds because his workout schedule has been limited.

"But I still feel good and healthy," he said. "Just for insurance, the RCR team doctor is going to fly from Indy to Charlotte with me to make sure I get IVs, if needed."

If all goes as planned, Gordon will fly by helicopter from the Indy speedway immediately after the race, then take Childress' private jet from the Indianapolis airport to a private field near the North Carolina track. Another chopper will bring him to Lowe's, hopefully in time for the start.

Despite qualifying 12th for the stock car race Thursday night, Gordon will likely have to start from the rear of the 43-car field.

"Because of having to miss the drivers' meeting, you start at the back anyway, but that gives you a few laps to get comfortable without guys all over you," Gordon said.

As for running all those miles on a single day, the former off-road racer is not daunted.

"I've run 1,000 miles in Baja and that's pretty much nonstop," he said. "The Baja is a survival race and there is no break, but you're not up on the wheel all day in the Baja like you are in Winston Cup or at Indy.

"The 600 is survival. It's NASCAR's longest race. If anything on the car is going to blow up or fall off, you usually see it happen in the 600. But it's also survival for the drivers because it's such a long race and it's usually hot at Charlotte. It's hard for drivers to feel good for the whole 400 laps."

Gordon, again driving for Menard and Childress, will start 11th in the 33-car Indy field. Childress, a longtime Indy-car fan, will call Gordon's race from the pits and travel with the driver to Charlotte.

"I know how important this is to Robby, and I want to help him win the Indy 500," Childress said.

Gordon almost won the 500 in 1999 driving for Team Menard, but he ran out of fuel while leading on the next-to-last lap and wound up fourth his best finish in seven starts.

"One gallon of fuel. That's all we needed," he said.

"I always dreamed of racing at Indy. Now, coming close to winning, I dream of winning," he said. "It's just a matter of putting the pieces together on Sunday, and of course, praying it doesn't rain at Indy. But we're planning to win both."

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