Weekly Racing Journal
20th (qualifying rained out; starting field
set based on
NASCAR mandated smaller, 13-gallon fuel cells
for Sunday’s EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in an
attempt to break up the large pack of cars, but most people thought
the biggest effect would be seen in the fuel mileage game. Although
Robby Gordon and the No. 31 Cingular Wireless team led 21 laps in
the caution-free race, fuel mileage ultimately took them out of
contention for the win.
Gordon and the other 42 drivers took the green
flag Sunday afternoon with apprehension of the possible “Big
One,” as they usually do at Talladega. Everyone eagerly waited
to see if the smaller fuel cells would indeed create smaller packs
of cars, but that wouldn’t be determined until after the first
couple of pit stops.
Patiently working the draft, Gordon moved into
the ninth position by lap 20. As expected, the first cycle of green-flag
pit stops began around lap 31 and Team Cingular made their stop
on lap 35 for fuel only. Gordon was 13th by lap 38 and
was consistently commended by crew chief Kevin Hamlin for his patience
on the tightly-packed race track. Gordon carefully chose his line
and drafting partners and worked his way into the third position
by lap 67.
Team Cingular made its second green-flag pit
stop on lap 72 for right-side tires and fuel only, but Gordon lost
a little time on pit road when he overshot his pit box and had to
back up before his pit crew could go to work. Despite the extra
time on pit road, the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet was running
11th by lap 100 and third by lap 121.
Gordon found his best groove on the bottom of
the track and powered past the competition to take the lead on lap
122. He easily held that position through lap 142, when the team
pitted under green on the following lap for left-side tires and
fuel. Gordon was still in the top five on lap 148 but got shuffled
to 11th on lap 171.
Unfortunately, Team Cingular did not get the
fuel mileage they had hoped for and were forced to pit with drafting
partner Rusty Wallace on lap 174 for three seconds of fuel. Several
teams found themselves in the same position but the extra pit stop
probably cost Gordon a top-five finish, if not a shot at the win.
Gordon fought to get to the front of the pack
in the closing laps but couldn’t get through the train of cars.
He crossed the finish line in the 12th position.
Robby Gordon Quotes:
“We knew we were going to have to pit that
last time, so we could afford to stay on the bottom groove and we
stayed there for a while. That’s where the Cingular car drove
best, anyway. I think we may have pitted one or two laps too early
a couple of stops before, so I wonder if we could have made it on
fuel. But Kevin Hamlin and those guys are the ones figuring it
and I’m sure they were right-on with their calculations.
“We had a great race car. The guys worked
hard all weekend and we were good enough to lead for several laps.
The pit crew kept me up front with great pit stops all day long.
We had a shot at the race if we could have gotten better gas mileage.
We just were about two or three seconds of fuel shy of making it
the whole way. I’m not sure if the smaller fuel cells did
what NASCAR wanted them to do. I do think they made it kind of
interesting with the fuel mileage games. Pit strategy was huge
today — guessing when to pit and when not to pit, when to take
two tires and when to take none. There weren’t any wrecks
but I don’t know if that’s because of the smaller fuel
cells or not."