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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Engine change puts Gordon in the back

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- If Jeff Gordon wants to reach Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway for third time in his career, he’s going to have to pass everyone else to do it.

After changing engines before he even qualified, Gordon will start in the back Sunday at MIS. He recognizes it will be a challenge, but is hopeful for a solid finish

“It’s gonna be a tough day for us. We know we’re going to start in the back,” Gordon said. “If there’s any track you can start in the back and make your way up, it’s Michigan. It’s wide, plenty of room to race out there.”

In situations like this, Gordon says, there’s no point in playing the blame game.

“There’s always pressure on everyone on this team to do their part and step up,” he said. “You have to support everyone on the team, go out there and do your best. Slowly but surely, you work your way back to the front.”

So what’s more important when you are trying to win a race? A talented driver or a strong car.

Gordon says that it “depends on the racetrack.”

“Every track is different. I’ve never been one to say that a driver makes all the difference. At a track like (Michigan), in qualifying the car means a lot, but the driver’s got to push it hard. It’s a big fast race track, so aerodynamics and mechanical grip and attitude and horsepower are key. But once you get into the race, the driver plays a role.” Gordon said. “If you go to Martinsville or Sonoma, it’s probably more involving the driver.
If you come here, or Daytona or Talladega, the car is more important.”

On the economic front, Gordon, a longtime driver of Chevys, said he understands why GM has decided to pull back their support in the Nationwide and Truck series.

“We all have been watching and waiting to see the reaction and it’s no surprise there’s going to be big cutbacks. It’s unfortunate for those in the Nationwide series, but those guys have to make decisions and we’re going to stand by them.”

Papis recognizes his challenge
No stranger to Michigan, having raced up front here for many years in CART open-wheel machines, Max Papis is thrilled just to be able to race in the Irish Hills of Michigan this weekend, as he didn’t even recognize the track after so many years.

“When I took my first lap out there I say ‘Man, this is not the track,’ ” said Papis after making the field for Sunday’s race. “Every single track I go to is new.”

He also knows the competition is steep in NASCAR and he has to be at the top of his game. “What makes it difficult is that every guy out there is awesome.

Speedway news
Some news this weekend involved MIS itself, including one that is good news for the wallet size of race fans attending the events this weekend. Concession prices have been lowered, a smart move in the wake of the economy’s current depressed state. Some items cost as much as 25 percent less than last year. Considering how expensive most sports venue prices are, that can translate to a significant savings on food and drinks. Ticket prices have also been cut, part of an effort to get more fans out to the track.

Also being unveiled this weekend at MIS is a “hospitality club” called Acceleration, which the speedway says “combines the thrill and speed of NASCAR with the comfort, fun and food of a sports bar.”
Fans attending Sunday’s race should note that on Sunday morning, Acceleration will host fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Robby Gordon and Michigan’s own Kid Rock, among others.

With so many out of work in Michigan, the speedway might be able to employ some of those people with their new $17 million plan to rebuild the track’s media center and pit terrace suites on its infield. The current building will be bulldozed after the August race at MIS (oddly enough, by Jeff Burton) and the new building should be up by next year’s June race. One unique aspect of the project is it will tap into solar power and be among the most “green” venues in sports.


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