NASCAR

Robby Gordon holds his own against big-budget teams

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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

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Led by business/team manager John Story and crew chief Greg Erwin, Robby Gordon Motorsports isn't a big-budget team. They are doing running at NASCAR's highest level the hard way.

Gordon got into Sunday's show at Bristol because he was high enough up in the top 35 in points this year and attempted to make every race that he was able to get that position. Kudos to his team for running so well this year to get that opportunity. If had been racing like he was racing last year, he would have been one of the guys loading up and going home. His team doesn't have a lot of toys like the four-post machines that Richard Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports or a fully-staffed engineering department. It's hard for Gordon because he's used to being with big teams in Cup, IRL Series and the off-road truck series. When he needs something, he can go get it. But Gordon has matured and knows his limitations. At Las Vegas, Gordon missed 45 minutes of practice because he's so far out of the top 35 in last year's points that it took them a while to get through inspection. He lost some valuable track time.

His driving ability can carry him so far, but Erwin told me that his driver knows he gets in trouble when he overdrives his car. Other drivers have gotten mad at him when he dive bombs the car into the corner. Or he'll get back in the throttle and out of control off of the corner to try to stay in front of somebody. It's one of the reasons he's been tagged as a guy who wrecks a lot. He was trying to make up for a lack of horsepower. Now, with Dale Earnhardt Inc. horsepower, he can relax, focus on his car, stay within his driving ability and be consistent. When his team got that part of the package at the end of 2005, Gordon looked like a totally different racer. Competitive engines are so important in our business. They help you have the fastest and best-handling racecars down the straightaway. You've got to have enough power under the hood to keep up with the competition and allow your team and driver to keep up through the corners. It's important for Gordon to get the first five races under his belt, give his team some breathing room and build an insurance policy because last year was an embarrassment. It's not the way he wants to race for his sponsors, and Gordon doesn't get enough credit for the good job he does with his sponsors, whether it's Jim Beam, Menards or Harrah's. He's very conscientious about taking care of his sponsors. Last year, the responsibility and the weight of being a Nextel Cup car owner hit him. This year, he is a very calculating but also a very confident driver, and his attitude breeds confidence in his team.

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"Robby kept telling me, 'We've got a 15th-place team here if we can just get the right stuff and the right deal.' Man, I believe it," Erwin said. Gordon has been known as a one-man band with a "my way or the highway" demeanor. But this year, he's just totally different. He's focused, and he's not hard to work with on the radio. It's definitely showing on the racetrack. They're able to put together solid finishes. He realizes that he has to qualify for these races so he's being cautious in qualifying. We haven't seen the best of the No. 7 car yet on pole day. After the first five races of the season, he's 20th in owner points, solidly inside the top 35 with a guaranteed starting spot. Now, he'll get up on the wheel. I wouldn't be surprised to see him qualify in the top 15 and challenge for better finishes.


FOX race analyst Jeff Hammond led Darrell Waltrip to two of DW's three Winston Cup championships as his crew chief. They also teamed to win the 1989 Daytona 500.

For autographed copies of Jeff Hammond's new book "Real Men Work in the Pits" plus magnets, hats and more, check out www.dwstore.com.

For photos and appearances, visit Jeff's web site www.jeffhammond.com.

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