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Boldly, Boldly, Ever Boldly...Not Always The Best Advice!

Commentary by Rick Carlton - Allrace Magazine


When Frederick the Great issued the title exhortation to his officers before an impending battle ("LAudace, L'Audace... Toujours, L'Audace") he was obviously thinking of the efficient prosecution of war, not sport. Last weekend at Sonoma, however, the differences between sport and warfare blurred considerably in the context of a late race fight for position between Robby Gordon and Kevin Harvick.

Gordon, who arrived at Sonoma as a hired gun for Mike Wallace in the #7 NationsRent Taurus crew-chiefed by Jim Long, lead for much of the race and when he wasn't leading, lurked in the top three throughout. Harvick, on the other hand, struggled with a mid-pack qualification and worse race performance, subsequently made intolerable by a 15 second penalty for excessive pit speed. As Harvick exited on fresh tires with 16 to go, the field lead by Robby, with Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart close behind, accelerated off turn 12 toward the start-finish line and by the turn-in to 1 Harvick and Gordon found themselves side by side. Rather than letting Harvick go on the way up the hill, however, Gordon chose to race him to the top and succeeded in gaining the advantage, presumably to position Kevin as a pick against Jeff and Stewart. For his part, Kevin appeared unimpressed by Gordon's move and, as the red mist made its appearance, began a credible impression of the Tasmanian Devil in Chevy's recent Monte Carlo ad campaigns.

Harvick, wouldn't let up and, in the words of Larry Mac, was "all over" Gordon, attempting to pass him at least 12 times, and bumping him hard no less than 3 times over the next 5 laps. Gordon, on the other hand, was feeling the pressure and continually attempted to get Harvick to give him some room; first asking his spotter, "...what was that was all about," after barely beating Harvick up the hill and later, as Kevin continued his attempts to color match the front of his while Monte Carlo with the back of Gordon's yellow and black Taurus, by asking for someone to, "...get him to back off." Unfortunately for Gordon, by that time, Tony Stewart had worked his way around Jeff under braking and was riding Harvick's spoiler, effectively negating any gap that may have existed. This placed Robby in the position of being unable to let Harvick go by, for fear that Stewart would get a run on him as well.

Then, it got worse. With 11 to go , Ron Fellows in 9th, was tagged in the left rear by Bill Elliott and found himself in the inside wall just after the apex of turn 12. It clearly looked like Fellows was going to block the racetrack and bring out a full-course yellow, and one could almost see the crew chiefs lighting up the air with radio calls. Immediately, thereafter, in the chute leading down to the right-handed turn 7, Harvick made a dive to the inside and got alongside Robby at the apex of the corner. Gordon, could have let him go at that point in order to protect his line to the next left-hander. Stewart had backed off slightly apparently believing that Gordon and Harvick were going to get together sooner or later, and not wanting to get tangled up with them when they did. Gordon, however, was by this time seething and moved out into Harvick's left door panel to block his pass. As Stewart saw the contact change his hunch from possibility to reality, a small space between Gordon and the apex opened up and Stewart, using the better momentum, straight-lined into the breech. As the three cars headed into the Esses Stewart lead, with Gordon second and Harvick third.

Previously deal making between the front running pack had resulted in the three teams involved in the lead chase telling Richard Childress that they would let Harvick have his lap back if a yellow came out, and good to their word, as the field rounded turn 12 with 10 to go, Stewart let Harvick by before he took the yellow at the line. As Long worked to calm Gordon down and get him emotionally set up for the final stint, Robby came up on the radio and announced that he, "...had no rear tires left." Long continued to console him but once the field took the green for the final 9 laps, it was apparent Gordon was right. Despite driving the wheels off the car he couldn't get the power down coming off the corners and got no closer than 0.5 seconds behind at the finish as Stewart took his first road course win. Afterwards, there was plenty of emotion to go around. Gordon, who was clearly shattered, blamed Harvick for his loss. Harvick, who had taken his gift from Stewart to go from last to 14th at the end, and hold on to 9th in the Winston Cup Championship Standings, was full of righteous indignation and no sympathy. Meanwhile Stewart just kept smiling like the cat that had just swallowed Tweety.

In looking at the tapes, listening to the radio calls, and analyzing each driver's actions step-by-step the following appears clear; both drivers were as right as they were wrong, in the heat of the moment Stewart took advantage of Gordon and Harvick's immaturity to steal a win, and that's racing after all It should also be noted that Stewart has come by the ability to see trouble honestly, as in years past he might have been the one riding the red wave rather than using his head. But these days, with the calming influences of both Bobby Labonte and Joe Gibbs finally settling in, he's becoming as smart, as he is talented..

Harvick once again showed why Dale Earnhardt placed so much faith in him with his gutsy ride to a 14th place finish, although he could have probably done the job a lot easier had he backed off and not threatened Gordon so aggressively. In the event, both Gordon and Harvick became victims of their own weaknesses to large degree since Kevin is obviously still too inexperienced to accept the fact that going slower is sometimes faster, and Gordon again provided an opportunity for folks to criticize him for being unwilling to accept anyone's point of view but his own. Of the three characters in the Sonoma drama, Gordon is really the most tragic since he had so much more to prove than the others, and his chances to do so are becoming fewer and fewer.

In the final analysis things worked out for everyone involved, however, as Tuesday, Gordon was offered the #7 car for the rest of the season. At this writing he hadn't made a decision on taking the job yet but I hope he will, as Winston Cup will be much more interesting with "Stonehead" participating, even if its only as a catalyst for Monday morning quarterbacking. On the other hand, Robby is clearly one of the most talented drivers in racing when he wants to be, so maybe the events at Sonoma will have taught him something that he can use to ultimately produce the wins both he and the NationsRent team deserve. Course, I'm not holding my breath either.

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