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Archive for Sunday, September 19, 2004

Gordon eyes fifth crown

Four-time champion considered favorite in 10-race playoff

September 19, 2004

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— If experience counted for everything, Jeff Gordon would be a lock to win NASCAR's first 10-man, 10-race championship playoff.

The four-time series champion goes into today's Sylvania 300, the first event of what NASCAR has dubbed the "Chase for the Nextel Cup," as the points leader and the odds-on favorite still to be on top after the season finale Nov. 21 in Homestead, Fla.

Among the other title contenders, only Matt Kenseth (2003) and Tony Stewart (2002) have won Cup championships, and Gordon's 69 race wins are far and away the most of the group, with the 34 by four-time series runner-up Mark Martin the closest among the other nine.

Winning another title to go with the championships he won in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001 would mean a great deal to the 33-year-old Gordon, who has finished fourth in the standings each of the past two years.

"The last couple of years have been decent for us, but we've been missing the boat and not been in that championship battle," Gordon said. "This is very exciting and certainly an opportunity we want to take advantage of."

It won't be easy.

Under the new format, once the 10 contenders were locked in, the points were reset, with the contenders separated in increments of five points heading into today's race. Gordon leads teammate Jimmie Johnson by five points and 10th-place Ryan Newman by 45.

In between are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Kenseth, Elliott Sadler, Kurt Busch, Martin and Jeremy Mayfield. Thanks to the rain that washed out Friday's qualifying, the lineup was set by car-owner points, and that means the contenders will line up for the start of today's race at the front of the 43-car grid.

"In a way it's kind of neat that the 10 guys in the championship will start out this thing all together," Martin said. "We've just got to hope that nobody gets too crazy out there, but I don't think that will happen. At least, not yet."

Kvapil takes truck title

Loudon, N.H. -- Travis Kvapil won weather-delayed NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' Sylvania 200 at New Hampshire International Speedway on Saturday, racing the final 97 laps without stopping for fuel.

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