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Saturday, May 15, 2004
Gordon can't afford to waive time

Associated Press

Robby Gordon
INDIANAPOLIS -- Robby Gordon barely won his first race Saturday.

He waited impatiently through a steady morning rain and long delay before qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. Then it was a scramble to race No. 2.

The frantic schedule did affect Gordon's qualifying run. He put himself in the field at 216.522 mph -- a slower four-lap average than he expected but one he had to accept because he was scheduled to be in Richmond, Va., for Saturday night's NASCAR race.

"If we didn't have to leave, we would have waved it off, for sure,'' Gordon said. "We couldn't do that because of the circumstances.''

Under Indy's unique qualifying format, each car is allowed up to three chances to complete a four-lap qualifying run over three days of time trials.

Gordon, a full-time Nextel Cup driver and a former IndyCar star, came into May knowing it was going to be extremely hectic after committing to race for the third time in both Indy and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

Saturday turned into a nervous day for Gordon, knowing he had to finish his Indy qualifying effort soon enough to return to Richmond in time for the driver's meeting. If he missed the meeting, Gordon would have had to start the race from the rear of the field, giving up the sixth position he took in Friday qualifying. He finished 24th in Richmond, three laps down.

Gordon, who also finished 19th in Friday night's Busch race at Richmond, pulled onto the track one minute before his self-imposed Indy deadline and wasted little time getting away.

After three warmup laps, the four qualifying laps and a few photos with his car, he rode on a golf cart to his garage for a change of clothes. Then came another golf cart ride to his helicopter for the first leg on his Richmond trip. Total elapsed time: 23 minutes -- seven minutes later than his scheduled departure.

It wasn't supposed to be this way yet for Gordon.

He figured he was in good shape when he drew the second spot in line Friday.

That would have assured him of a late-morning finish, perhaps even a second qualifying attempt, and still given him ample time to make the one-hour flight to Richmond for Saturday night's Chevy American Revolution 400.

But the bad weather put Gordon in a precarious position. Practice was delayed by more than four hours, and qualifying started about 3 hours late. All Gordon could do was wait and hope things worked out.

"I think I'm going to go take a nap,'' he said in midmorning. "I don't control the weather and I don't care.''

The tight schedule is becoming almost routine, though.

Gordon ran 21 laps at Indianapolis on Tuesday, then flew to Charlotte, N.C., for testing. On Wednesday, he was back in Indianapolis for practice. Then it was off to Richmond for Busch practice Wednesday night, Cup practice and Busch qualifying Thursday and Cup qualifying and the Busch race Friday.

"We didn't need the weather,'' Gordon said. "But we'll deal with it.''

While other drivers were concerned about their four-lap qualifying times, Gordon seemed more worried about the actual clock -- and just getting a chance to put his car in the starting lineup on pole-qualifying day before driving Richard Childress' entry in Richmond.

Gordon met with Indy Racing League senior vice president Brian Barnhart on Saturday morning, set a 2:30 p.m. deadline and almost made it. He waited for the No. 7 qualifying spot, with his backup car, and was the third driver on the track.

It could have been worse. As Gordon boarded the helicopter, Andretti Green Racing driver Bryan Herta crashed in the first turn. Had it happened a few minutes earlier, Gordon could have been forced to make a choice -- qualify or leave town even later.

Gordon lucked out, and although it wasn't an ideal qualifying attempt, it was good enough to put Gordon safely in the field for the May 30 race and ended quick enough for him to make the Richmond race.

"I'm already thinking about what we need to do for race setup,'' he said. "I think we'll have a good car for the race and that's what's important.''