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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Gordon snags first Texas pole … now look for him to take first Texas win

Associated Press photo
Jeff Gordon makes his pole-winning run during qualifying Friday in Texas.

It’s been over a year since Jeff Gordon -- a winning machine for most of his career -- has seen Victory Lane. During the past year, he’s had some good races, but he’s also had some terrible ones.

Many have questioned his crew chief’s ability, and many more have begun talking about how Gordon is on the downside of his career and is no longer a serious contender.

Beyond all of that, the race this week is at Texas, one of only two places (along with Homestead) where Gordon has never won in his 17-year Cup career. That’s a pretty impressive stat, but don’t be surprised if he cuts that list down to one Sunday afternoon.

By taking the pole for Sunday’s race, his first ever at Texas, Gordon sent notice to the other drivers that he’s still a threat. There’s no doubt he’ll face serious competition from Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, but I get the feeling that this week we’ll see Gordon’s resurgence and return to Victory Lane.

Don’t get me wrong … I don’t believe he’s going to return to form consistently enough to compete with Johnson next year. He’s already said he’s only got a few years left before he retires at a young age (call him the anti-Mark Martin), and I do believe Gordon’s best days are behind him. The baton is officially passed to Johnson (whose car he partly owns), and a fifth title is a pipe dream at this point.

But that doesn’t mean the old, dominating Gordon won’t pop out from under his shell once in a while in those remaining years, and this weekend should be one of those times.

Keselowski will make Cup debut
Congratulations to Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski, who will make his first career start this Sunday at Texas in the Cup series. A driver’s first race is almost always a learning experience, but with teammates like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to get advice from, I bet Brad will have a decent showing.

Hamilton Jr. putting money where his heart is
When fans saw Bobby Hamilton Jr. at the track this weekend, many were probably puzzled. This second-generation driver was not expected to be at the track for the rest of the year, as the Nationwide team he drives for has run out of money and was about to shut down for the year.

Instead, Hamilton ponied up the money from his own pocket so the team would make it through the end of the year, in the hopes of running well enough to attract a sponsor. If that’s not dedicated, I don’t know what is. Hamilton’s dedication is a reminder of all the locals who put dollar after dollar into their car in the hopes of making the next step. This is an inspiring story, and I’m rooting for the team to get something in place so they can continue next year.

Truck race awesome as usual
The Trucks series kicked off a tripleheader weekend at Texas, and as usual it did not disappoint. Ron Hornaday is one of the most daring and exciting drivers to watch week in and week out, and Friday night he went three-wide, up high, down low and in the middle more times than I can count during his amazing run from a lap down (due to an untimely pit stop) to the lead, as he won the race and closed in on Johnny Benson’s points lead.

Now, just 6 points separate Hornaday from Benson, who fought hard for a third-place finish. It amazes me how the Trucks series always produces a great points battle, without any manufactured “Chase” excitement, yet the Cup battle is basically over already despite the Chase.


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