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Gordon Still Under Pressure at Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. (Aug. 26, 2004) – Provided he starts the next three races, Jeff Gordon has secured a spot in the “Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.”

While that offers some comfort to Team DuPont as the series visits Bristol Motor Speedway for the Sharpie 500 on Saturday night, the pressure will not be lifted until the “Drive for Five” is complete.

Gordon, who assumed the points lead after Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway, has a commanding 468-point lead over 11th place. If he exits Bristol with a 380-point margin over that position, he is guaranteed to be one of the drivers competing for the NEXTEL Cup championship regardless of whether he starts the next two races.

“There is some comfort in knowing we’ve all but locked up a spot in the ‘Chase,’” Gordon said. “I’m sure those teams battling for that 10th and final spot will be under a lot of pressure this weekend.

“Bristol is such a demanding short track, and things seem to happen so fast here. One minute, you can have the fastest car on the track and everything seems to be going your way. An instant later, you could be involved in somebody else’s accident.

“We’re in a position where that wouldn’t hurt us too bad. At the same time, we’re hoping to build on our team chemistry and gain momentum as we enter the final 10 races of the season, so that would have an effect on us.”

“There’s still pressure to perform at the level that’s expected of us,” crew chief Robbie Loomis said. “We want Jeff to win that fifth championship, and that pressure won’t be lifted until the ‘Drive for Five’ is complete.”

In 23 races at the .533-mile high-banked short track, Gordon has five wins, three poles, 10 top-fives and 15 top-10s. He has an average finish of 11.6 and average starting position of fifth. In fact, he has only three starts worse than eighth and only one start worse than 15th.

One other important aspect of qualifying is pit selection. Teams choose their pit stall based on Friday’s qualifying results with the pole-winning team choosing first. But it is not the pit stall location that Gordon is worried about.

“I hope the team tapes pit road directions on the dashboard of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet this weekend,” Gordon joked, referring to two mistakes he has made in the last three races at Bristol. “Last year, I drove down the backstretch pit lane on entry when I didn’t need to. Earlier this year, I drove down the frontstretch pit lane when it wasn’t necessary.

“Entering and exiting pit road is a little confusing here. Under caution, everyone enters pit road in Turn 2 and exits in Turn 1. Under green flag conditions, however, you enter pit road in Turn 2 if you’re pitting on the backstretch and exit in Turn 3. If you’re pitting on the frontstretch, you enter in Turn 4 and exit in (Turn 1).”

Having won five races at Bristol, surely he won’t need directions to Victory Lane.

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