Brooklyn, Michigan. There’s no denying the power of a good result. It’s an infectious feeling that makes an entire team raise their game to new levels. Such is the case at Team Gordon right now. After a season-best 4th-place showing at Watkins Glen last weekend, Robby Gordon and his first-year team are hurting only from the permanent smiles on their faces as they prepare for this weekend’s Pepsi 400 presented by Meijer at the Michigan Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.
Gordon’s result now gives him a top-five finish in 2000 to add to his top-ten finish at Sears Point in June, but more importantly it gives his team something to hang their hard work and season-long dedication on.
“It’s like we’ve got a new group of guys right now, I can’t recognize them at the shop with their perma-grins,” said Gordon, who looks to add to the strong Michigan outing he had in June with a good run this weekend. “It’s a great feeling right now on this team. We went to The Glen knowing we’d be strong because it’s a road course, but the bottom line is once you get up to the top ten cars there, it’s just like any other Winston Cup race. You can’t make mistakes. To the team’s credit, we didn’t. They had a great pit stop under pressure late in the race when everyone else was pitting and we gained spots because of it. The car stayed together also, it was the whole package. Now they’re all ready to go to Michigan and show the boys we can hang there too. That’s the attitude we want, and while I think we’ve had it all year, we’ve struggled at times just because we’ve been learning as a new team. Maybe what makes me most proud is the fact that we bounced back from Indy with a result like this, nobody hung their head, they just worked hard to erase it.”
Team Gordon crew member Mike Kelley feels the team has taken a turn as well, recalling the early part of the season when the team had some success, but then fell victim to the competitiveness of Winston Cup and the grueling schedule.
“For a lot of us, we didn’t have a ton of Winston Cup experience,” explained Kelley, who doubles as the rear tire hanger during pit stops. “We went to Daytona and ran pretty well, then qualified first day at Rocking ham and led laps at Vegas. Maybe we thought it was going to be easier than it really is. After that we kind of hit a wall, but we never gave up learning how to get up front. Most of us are racers here, we want to win. You can beat us up, but you won’t destroy us. Robby gave us the tools to become better at pit stops and be better prepared and we’ve done that. I know we missed a few races, but that’s Cup. That stuff makes us stronger and makes us appreciate races like we had at The Glen. Robby drives the hell out of our car, we all know that, that’s why we’re working like dogs to get him the best car and best pits tops we can. I want to feel like I do right now after every weekend and I know every guy in our shop does too.”
Gordon brings his Turtle Wax/Duracell/Menards Ford back to Michigan where he last qualified 25th. He ran to the top-ten, putting on an exciting show early in the race until a mistake in the pits sent him back in the field, essentially taking him out of the hunt. That weekend was the first race Gordon and his new band of in-house pit warriors saw race action.
“Oh yeah, we got a score to settle with Michigan,” laughed Joe Kruschek, Gordon’s rear tire changer. “He came in somewhere in the top ten or fifteen and left at the back because we left a tire out and had to go back to get it. I was mad. (Mike) Kelley was mad. We were all mad. But I think we realized at that point how serious and how important pit stops really are. Since then I’ve worn out shoes, knee pads, you name it, practicing twice a day at the shop. Now, instead of getting nervous when Robby flies in for a pit, I’m pumped because I think we can help. But oh yeah, Michigan I haven’t forgotten.”
This weekend will mark Gordon’s fourth time to the Michigan Speedway in a Winston Cup car. Gordon finished 28th with Team Gordon in June of this year, 17th in 1997 with Team Sabco, and in a one-race deal in 1994, he finished 38th for Kranefuss-Haas racing.