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Gordon Stars in Several Series

Times Staff Writer

The dream of every stock car driver is to win on NASCAR’s premier Nextel Cup series, or if not that, maybe win the Busch series championship.

The dream of nearly every driver anywhere is to win the Indianapolis 500, still the biggest race in the world.

The dream of every off-road racer is to win the Baja 1000.

Robby Gordon wants them all.

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In today’s Auto Club 500, a Nextel Cup race at California Speedway, the second-generation driver from Cerritos will start in a Chevrolet in the 12th row, but it doesn’t bother him.

“I think I’m going to have the fastest car in NASCAR for the race,” he said Saturday while relaxing in the Team Cingular motor home. “One lap here doesn’t mean much, it’s more important to carry your speed for 50-lap runs and we can do that as well as anybody.”

Rookie Kasey Kahne, in a Dodge, will start on the pole after a lap of 186.904 mph in Friday’s time trials. Gordon’s fastest lap was 183.908. In time, the difference is only 0.635 of a second.

“Sundays are the easiest days of the week,” said Gordon, who has been in a race car at speed for 17 of the last 18 days, testing his Nextel and Busch Chevrolets, his Dallara Indy car and his new Trophy Truck for Baja. “All I have to do is a little hospitality for sponsors and race. It’s the racing I love.”

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After Saturday’s final practice, he was enthusiastic.

“This is by far the best we have ever been at Fontana in years,” Gordon said. “Well, maybe I shouldn’t say that. I think we were running in the top 10 last year and had a shock problem.

“I think we’re going to be very fast tomorrow. The car is handling real good. We stayed on old tires. I think we were the oldest tires out there. I believe we were the quickest on the oldest tires. That’s what it takes in NASCAR racing.

“Tire wear is looking good.... We think our engines are pretty good. We have the whole package.”

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Gordon warmed up for today’s 500 miles by running 300 Saturday in the Busch race. He finished 12th.

Gordon has won Cup, Indy car and Baja off-road races in his checkered career, but he has never conquered the Indianapolis 500. He has been close, running out of fuel once while leading with a lap to go.

“I can win it this year, I know it,” he said. “I have my own team in order and have Thomas Knapp running the team. I have to be away running my Cup car for Richard Childress most every Sunday, but I have complete confidence in the job Knapp is doing. Like I said, I’m going there to win.”

If he does, it will be part of the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 double on Memorial Day weekend. Gordon has planned the marathon four times before. Once rain kept him from doubling, but in 2000 he finished fifth and 35th, in 2002 eighth and 16th and last year 22nd and 17th, respectively.

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“I know how to drive Indy,” he said. “I qualified third two of the last three years and I came within one lap of winning once when I ran out of gas, so I’m confident we can get the job done, even against guys who have been running their cars in the IRL all season.”

He warmed up for the task last week at Michigan Speedway, where he tested his stock car for about 200 miles and then jumped into his new Indy car the same day for what he calls function testing.

“All we were checking was how the car functioned, were there any oil leaks, any parts loose,” Gordon said. “It’s something we always do with a new car. That way, when we go to serious testing, all the little stuff is done. It saves a lot of time.”

Since he first began racing as a teenager with his dad, Gordon has had trouble deciding what he wanted to do, sports cars one year, then CART for a few years while testing waters in Winston Cup and finally jumping from one team to another, even one of his own, in Cup racing, all the while racing in Baja when the mood struck.

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Now, at age 35, he says he has all his ambitions in order, all well funded with sponsorship money, a strong network of helpers and his equipment powered by a variety of Chevrolet engines.

“I’ll give you an idea of how organized I am,” he said. “It’s only May and already I have all the logistics for running the Baja 1000 in November. It used to be I did everything on the spur of the moment.

“Now I don’t have to think about all the little things. I only think about driving the race car.”

This year’s logistics nightmare will start the weekend of May 14-15. After driving in Friday night’s Busch race at Richmond, Va., he will fly to Indianapolis to qualify on Saturday, then return to Richmond to drive that night in the American Revolution 500 Nextel Cup race.

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After that, driving 1,100 miles in one day should be easy for Gordon, who has often driven solo 1,000 miles in Baja, winning the race in 1989.

He won’t be driving the whole 1000 this year, however. Because of the season-ending Cup race at Homestead-Miami, he will drive the first half, then turn the truck over to his father, Bob, also a former Baja winner.

In nine Nextel Cup races this year, Gordon has two top-five finishes, fourth at Darlington and fifth last week at Talladega. After being involved in accidents in the year’s first two races, he is 22nd in points, 441 behind leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In his career, Gordon has won three Cup races, two of them on road courses last year, and he won two CART races in 1995.

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“Ideally, I’d like to run about 20 selected races a year, but you can’t do that and keep your sponsors,” he said. “I feel I get sponsors for my other cars because I have a strong presence as a NASCAR driver. I race on a weekly basis, which allows the sponsors to sell their programs knowing I will be there.

“I am very fortunate. Every driver wants to drive a cool race car and I’ve got cool cars in four different series -- Nextel, Busch, Indy cars and Trophy Trucks. Life is good.”

So what is Gordon doing Monday and Tuesday, after driving this weekend in Saturday’s Busch and today’s Nextel races?

“I think I’ll run up to Barstow and take my trucks out for a test.”

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