Weekly Racing Journal
Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400/Nov. 9, 2003
(35th of 36 races)
Location: North Carolina Speedway
Start Position: 17th
Finish Position: 20th
Points Position: 16th
In the beginning laps of Sunday’s race at North
Carolina Speedway, it appeared Robby Gordon and the No. 31 Cingular
Wireless team would post at least a top-10 finish as Gordon continuously
ran laps as fast as, and sometimes better than, the leader. But
the combination of pitting right before a caution came out and another
car forcing the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet to brush the outside
wall resulted in the Cingular Wireless team falling two laps down.
Despite these circumstances, the Cingular Wireless team did not
give up. Instead, the team and driver fought back with a mix of
pure persistence and patience that resulted in Gordon finishing
20th, still holding onto 16th place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point
Gordon started the race 17th and did not let
a slightly tight-handling race car keep him from moving up to 11th
place by the time the first caution flag was displayed on lap 84.
Just before the yellow flag waved, Gordon radioed his team the Cingular
Wireless Monte Carlo was coming to him, so crew chief Kevin Hamlin
decided to not make any changes to the machine, taking four tires
and fuel only. After the Cingular Wireless pit crew clocked a 14.79-second
stop, Gordon was back on track, still in the top 15, when racing
went back to green on lap 90.
Just after dodging the second accident of the
day and putting up another excellent 13.74-second pit stop, the
Cingular Wireless team was approaching lap 100 in 11th place and
making a strong charge toward the front of the field. Then, the
No. 99 car began to spin, forcing the No. 31 Chevrolet to brush
the outside wall to avoid it. Gordon pitted so his team could assess
the damage and pull out the left and right-side fenders of the race
car. No major damage seemed to have been done to the Chevy, except
the loss of valuable track position. The Cingular Wireless Chevrolet
was 29th when racing resumed on lap 106.
Although Gordon was back up to speed by lap 200
and running inside the top 25, the loss of that vital track position
put him in range of the fast-approaching leader. Nearing lap 239,
the Cingular Wireless Chevrolet was 17th, but the tight-handling
conditions seemed to be returning and were worse than Gordon first
encountered earlier in the race. Struggling with the difficult steering,
Gordon was lapped. He radioed his crew he wanted to short pit, pitting
before the scheduled and necessary time, hoping that would give
him the ability to get back by the leader. So the team pitted on
lap 241 and Gordon was on his way off pit road when the seventh
caution flag of the day was displayed, putting the Richard Childress
Racing (RCR) Chevrolet two laps down.
With less than 100 laps to go, the earlier brush
with the outside wall seemed to come back to haunt the No. 31 Chevrolet
as Gordon reported the toe was off, and as the sun began to set,
the tight handling continued to worsen. The Cingular Wireless team
did not give up and managed to post a top-25 finish among a field
in which only 10 cars finished on the lead lap.
"We had a good race car today and that is what made everything
that happened so frustrating, but I guess what really matters is
20th is not that bad, especially for being three laps down by the
end of the day. In the beginning the car was a little tight, but
it really came to me, then we were forced into the wall, and in
the long run, that really messed up the toe of the car. One thing
is we were two laps down there and the Cingular Wireless team did
not give up. These guys kept me going and keep me going every week.
I just wish I could get a better finish for them. Hopefully, we’ll
get that strong finish in Homestead."