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Moving Forward: Gordon, Team DuPont Ready for 2006

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 11, 2006) – Jeff Gordon isn’t accustomed to his current situation; that is, being asked to answer questions about an “off year.”  Why an “off year?” Simple: Because Jeff Gordon’s “off year” is almost any other driver’s “very good year.”

Let’s review: In 2005, Gordon drove his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo to four wins, 10 other top-10 finishes and an 11th-place finish in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings.  Oh, and one of those four wins? Just his third Daytona 500 victory, making Gordon just the fifth driver in history with as many wins in the granddaddy of them all.

Geez, how does a guy sleep at night?

Well, however one chooses to characterize 2005, there’s little question that Gordon and the entire crew of the DuPont Chevrolet are champing at the bit to crush any doubts people might have that he and the No. 24 are yesterday’s news in today’s NASCAR.

“I think that when you come to work at Hendrick Motorsports, especially in the No. 24 car [with] the success we’ve had, there’s a lot of pressure,” Gordon said in a press conference during a break from testing Tuesday in Daytona. “You either step up to the plate or you have got to move on. I think that I take those things and I motivate myself from them.”

If any driver has earned the benefit of the doubt, it’s Gordon. His 73 wins place him third in the modern era, behind just Darrell Waltrip (84) and Dale Earnhardt Sr. (76), and his four Cup titles put him three behind Earnhardt and Richard Petty, NASCAR’s winningest drivers.

Last season’s 11th-place result was just Gordon’s second finish outside the top-10 since 1993, his rookie year—for that matter, it was just his fourth finish outside the top-five in 13 seasons. Clearly, then, it would be unwise to underestimate him.

And, as if any further proof was necessary, Gordon has topped the board throughout the first two days of testing at Daytona International Speedway. On Tuesday, he steered his DuPont Chevrolet to an afternoon-best speed of 188.466 mph, continuing last year’s late-season push that moved him from 17th overall to 11th.

“I’ve been fortunate where when I’ve had bad years, we’ve usually ended those bad years with something positive to build on,” he said. “And that’s what happened to us last year [when] we missed the Chase. We made a lot of changes and all of a sudden, it seemed like the chemistry started coming back and we ended on a good note.”

A note that Gordon hopes will carry him and his Chevrolet Monte Carlo straight on through a successful and potentially record-breaking 2006.  With just an average Jeff Gordon year, he will pass Earnhardt for second among modern-era winners.

“You know, I’m not out there to prove anything, to beat any statistics or records or anything like that,” Gordon said.

But it sure would be nice, wouldn’t it?

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