Monday, November 26, 2001
Gordon's been close at Indy
By Jack Arute
Robby Gordon's spot on Richard Childress' driver roster was cast in stone after the California native delivered RCR Racing their first Winston Cup win for team 31. What remains to be seen is the effect Robby Gordon's Indianapolis 500 efforts will have on his new boss.
"I will definitely be at Indy for the 500," said Gordon, a veteran of seven Memorial Day Indy car classics.
Indy and Gordon have been intertwined throughout most of the 32-year-old driver's career. In 1999 he came as close as he ever has to snaring what many still consider racing's greatest prize when he led the race only to run his car out of fuel, giving way to Kenny Brack.
It is likely that Gordon's car in the 500 will be under the Childress umbrella and more than in name only. According to Gordon, Childress has always held the Indianapolis 500 in a special place.
Childress' relationship with Chevrolet puts him atop the auto-maker's food chain. Chevy's decision to take over for Oldsmobile as an Indy Racing League engine manufacturer makes a Richard Childress' IRL effort a marketer's dream.
Staffing is no problem for such an effort. Gordon has effectively assembled a crew for his previous Indy attempts and could easily augment staff from RCR's Welcome, N.C. operation.
The IRL rules package also make it an attractive proposition. The narrow chassis parameters are far less labor intensive than Childress' Winston Cup efforts. Tinkering does go on in the IRL but with far less intensity.
The key issue is the Childress-Chevy connection. What will be interesting is if Chevy would go so as far as to have Childress assemble Gordon's "Bow-Tied" powerplants instead of opting for one of their IRL approved assemblers.
Part of the Indy Racing League formula requires manufacturers to select at least two "approved assemblers" to service League events, but there is no prohibition against outside interests taking part in the process.
Gordon refused to comment about the possible inclusion of Richard Childress Racing in his eighth Indy 500 attempt. "We will be making an announcement about my specific plans in the very near future," was all that he would coyly say about the speculated alliance.
But when you take into account the fact that he has already delivered for Childress on the Cup circuit and that he drove an IRL entry co-owned by Childress and A.J. Foyt in last year's race to a disappointing 21st-place finish after qualifying on the outside of the front row, it is easy make the connection.
After that disappointment, Gordon said, "I have some unfinished business." He was referring to his lackluster career in NASCAR's Winston Cup Series.
Gordon has always been one to drop hints and bits of information hoping that observers would connect the dots and understand the verbal trail he was leaving.
"Remember," he reiterated to me. "Indy is where Richard and I first hooked up."