View: Robby Gordon
As told to Dave Rodman, Turner Sports Interactive May 31, 2003
4:25 PM EDT (2025 GMT)
DOVER, DEL. — Looking back on doing the Memorial
Day double between Indianapolis and Charlotte, as far as smoothness,
schedules working out, the organization between race teams and the
driver and how everything went — I thought it just went too good,
because up until race day it was like a non-issue.
I don’t remember one tiny drama, even when they banned helicopter
flights into and out of the two venues, that wasn’t a real big deal
because it just became a matter of organizing everything, putting
the plan into place and then executing it.
Once I arrived at the track on race morning,
I met with the Archipelago, Motorola and Budweiser guests in the
hospitality area, and then went back to the garage to meet with
my crew chief and engineer to discuss race strategy one more time.
Then, we were ready for driver introductions.
At driver introductions we met some guest celebrities
such as Andrew Firestone and Jen from "The Bachelor",
Gomer Pyle — I know, Jim Nabors — Florence Henderson and former
president Bill Clinton.
I did the Double Duty Tour for the fans that
flew between Charlotte and Indy, and all of it was flawless.
Until we got to the race, that is.
Once the race started, in my opinion, we forgot
everything we learned all month long. Andretti Green is a great
race team, and they have very well prepared race cars.
From the very first week we were there, my job
was full tank 35-lap race runs. At the end of every run, our fuel
was empty and our tires were worn to the cords on the right front
and right rear.
Then, when the race started the team said we
were going to do a fuel strategy race. So I started turning down
my fuel mixture control at lap three, which gives you better fuel
mileage, but less power.
The first caution came out 10 laps into the race
and my crew decided we were going to pit for fuel only and no tires.
The part we forgot about was that we needed to put tires on the
car as well. They looked at it like we only had 10 laps on the tires
and it was no big deal.
We ran three more laps before another caution
came out. All the leaders pitted and we stayed out and got our track
position back. But we had 15 more laps on our tires than they did,
and three or four less laps of fuel.
That would not be a problem if we had a short
run of green laps but we had a long green run and at lap 35, which
was a normal run for tires, we still had 12 gallons of fuel left.
I went from running laps at 225 miles per hour
to hanging on for my life at about 200, because I had no rubber
left on my tires — I could see cords showing on the right front
tire and about one inch of cord around the inside of the right rear.
That took us from a top-five car back to 27th
by the time we could pit because you just can’t go very fast on
cords, and we almost got ourselves lapped by lap 45.
After a normal pit stop we had the fastest car
on the race track and drove all the way back up to ninth place before
our next stop on about lap 75.
Our third stop is where we really started to
have our problems. Getting stuck in pit lane when the caution came
out, which cost us a lap wasn’t the only thing.
We did another normal stop for four tires and
fuel with no adjustments. But as I went to leave, I stalled the
car. After restarting, when I put the car in gear it went in but
Losing that lap in the pits was one of the biggest
things that affected the rest of the day. The way it works in Indy
cars, when you come out of the pits you’re behind the leaders, and
when they pit, you’re behind the pace car.
Before they restart, they wave all the lapped
cars by, which puts you back on the lead lap, but at the back of
the field. I was back in 27th again, but we were able to get back
to the lead group before the next stop, and again I was running
ninth and we were fortunate to catch a caution to bunch us up again,
on lap 123.
Our goal was to get past halfway and then we’d
pull the wicker out of the rear wing to start trimming out the car
to go faster. When I came down pit lane, I told them to pull the
wicker, take three turns out of the front wing, put on four tires
and fill the fuel.
We left pit lane in seventh. We still had a good
race car and everything was going good. I was congratulating the
guys on a great stop, and they came on the radio and said "hold
They told me they took the turns out of the front
wing but they forgot to pull the wicker. That would make the car
undriveable, because it would push badly, and we probably would
have gotten lapped pretty quickly.
We had picked up a problem with the car not wanting
to idle properly, and when I came down pit lane to pull the wicker
out, when I tried to leave I dropped it in gear at about 5,000 RPMs
and it went ‘clink.’ And it stalled again.
First gear felt a little raunchy leaving pit
lane, but I went back out, took the green and I’m running in 23rd
place again. I charged back through the pack again and got all the
way back to 11th or 12th place right before our last pit stop, at
about lap 168.
I came down pit road and made the stop, and when
I put it into first gear to leave, "bang" — first gear
broke. I stalled the car, so they restarted me. When I went into
third gear leaving pit road that broke as well.
I finally got it into sixth gear, but I was only
able to run a couple more laps and the gearbox just exploded.
It was very disappointing because we had one
of the best cars all day long. When I looked at race winner Gil
de Ferran’s best race lap, he was only three-tenths of a mile an
hour faster than our best.
I know that when I go back to Indy next year,
I’m going to run full throttle all day long and not worry about
any fuel mileage.
If we win the race, in the end it will be because
of raw speed, not because of strategy — because strategy has bitten
me twice there, now, as it did in 1999 when we ran out of fuel while
we were leading with less than two laps to go.
For the Coca-Cola 600, we did something that
I think a lot of people didn’t understand. It was great strategy
on the part of my Cingular Chevrolet crew chief, Kevin Hamlin. From
the start of practice, we concentrated on race runs, because we
knew we couldn’t make it back for the Winston Cup drivers’ meeting
and we were going to have to go to the back anyway.
At the very end of practice before qualifying,
we put what we thought would be a qualifying set-up on it; but the
bottom line is you can’t qualify with these guys if you don’t put
that set-up on the car from the beginning and really tune on it.
We missed it qualifying, but we knew we had a
good race car because we came out for Saturday’s final practices
and were 11th in the morning, which was the session that really
mattered for our Cingular team and me.
On Sunday evening, we ran into something that
has bothered us for the last month or so. We end up the final race
practice pretty decent, but when the race starts we’re really, really
tight before the first pit stop and we end up getting lapped.
That was exactly what happened again in the 600.
Even despite that, like I told Richard Childress and our team manager,
Bobby Hutchens on Tuesday, I felt like we had a top-10 car. We were
just a lap down, unfortunately.
We came close to getting our lap back a couple
times and I think as the track got cooler the No. 31 Cingular Wireless
Chevrolet was definitely getting faster and we were coming toward
Unfortunately, before our last pit stop we got
together with my teammate, Kevin Harvick and it knocked our fender
in. Kevin (Hamlin) didn’t want to come in and fix it, but I looked
at 150 laps left on the board and I thought there was no way that
NASCAR would call the race.
I knew we had to fix the fender so we’d be good
later on. We came in, they called the race and we would have been
in ninth place if we hadn’t pitted.
Even at that, despite finishing 17th, Kevin and
the guys were working on the race car and getting it faster and
I think we would have got our lap back eventually.
What can you say — we finished 17th, scored
some points and moved up a spot in the championship, to 12th. Man,
we’ve got a great race team, but at Charlotte and Indy it seemed
like nothing worked.
I can’t wait until next year to do it again.
We proved we could be a frontrunner at the speedway again, despite
not running an Indy car for a year. It was pretty cool.
I’ve already started the Indy 500 discussions
for next year. I know what I want to do and I’m not going to let
ourselves get in the position we did this year, waiting so long
for something to happen.
Next year I want to test and practice as much
as we can. Hopefully when the month is all said and done we’ll be
the fastest car of the month and we will have won the Indianapolis
I enjoyed working with Michael Andretti and his
guys and we had some awesome sponsors like Archipelago, Motorola
and Budweiser that were a lot of fun to be around. It was a very
pleasurable experience but the result was just not what any of us
I’ve already talked to two sponsors for next
year, because we obviously want to make sure we have all the tools
necessary to go Indy and try to win.
The Penske Group owns the speedway and
proved once again they are the most organized, and maybe the most
sophisticated race team out there with their 1-2 finish.