Bruce Martin
Monday May 3rd, 2010

MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- At one time when the word "streak" was connected to Jeff Gordon it had to do with a winning streak.

Mention the word "streak" around Gordon today and it's probably quite the sore subject.

NASCAR's four-time Cup champion has a 40-race winless streak, with his last trip to Victory Lane coming at Texas Motor Speedway in April 2009.

But there is good news for Gordon as he heads into Saturday night's Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Gordon has won seven races at the 1.366-mile oval located in the Pee-Dee area of South Carolina.

Despite his drought, Gordon has been incredibly impressive this season. His trips to Victory Lane have been derailed by late-race yellow flags and green-white-checkered finishes that have left the driver seeing red. Throw in a feud with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, another four-time Cup champion, and Gordon has had a streak of misfortune that's kept him from winning races.

His latest setback was in Saturday night's race at Richmond International Raceway. Gordon was in the lead when Joey Logano and Sam Hornish, Jr. crashed at the end of the race. At the time, Gordon was running away from the field before the yellow flag set the stage for another missed trip to victory.

As the leader, he chose the inside line rather than the outside on the restart. That put Kyle Busch on the outside line and when the green flag waved for the final two laps of racing, Busch motored by to end a 21-race winless streak of his own.

"Unfortunately, those cautions came out," Gordon said. "I got two good restarts. Then, you know, the guy I did not want to have to race on the restarts, who was unbelievable on restarts earlier in the day, was Kyle. When I went, he timed it perfect, got to my outside. I was a little bit loose. We weren't that good on restarts anyway. He just smoked us.

"If we keep running like this, I think the wins will come."

That is why Gordon's streak comes to an end at Darlington. He knows this track better than any active driver in the series and knows how to get to Victory Lane.

This year, Gordon had been in position to win at Martinsville only to get knocked out of the way by Matt Kenseth during a green-white-checkered flag finish. He would finish third. The following week at Phoenix, Gordon was once again in position to win the race, but an extra session of "overtime" racing allowed Ryan Newman to take the checkered flag, just .130-seconds ahead of Gordon.

He had one of the best cars in the race at Texas, leading a race-high six times for 124 laps before he got roughed up by Johnson.

"I've been doing this long enough to know they don't give out trophies for leading any lap other than the last one," Gordon said. "We're leading laps, a bunch of laps, at a lot of different types of tracks. I think our team is really on top of our game. It's a little disappointing we haven't won some races yet. If we keep doing this, those will come."

Gordon remains one of the smartest, most savvy drivers in NASCAR. And he can sense that his winless streak is about to come to an end.

A victory by Gordon at Darlington Raceway this weekend would be the perfect Mother's Day gift to celebrate with his wife, Ingrid, and daughter, Ella Sofia. Jeff and Ingrid are also expecting a baby boy in August.

Another victory by Gordon would be his eighth at that track, placing him within striking distance of some of the sport's legendary drivers.

"When I came along, Darlington, the history of the track and how it fit into NASCAR's history, was very well documented," Gordon said. "The names, (Richard) Petty and (David) Pearson and (Cale) Yarborough and (Dale) Earnhardt, those were things that stuck out to me as wow, if you can win here then you're really doing something.

"Only the best of the best in our sport go on to win there."

John Andretti's famous heritage includes his uncle Mario, cousin Michael and second-cousin Marco. But it isn't his all-star lineage that is setting him apart in motorsports.

Prior to finishing ninth in Saturday's Road Runner Turbo Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway, Andretti had started five NASCAR Cup races at Kansas with a highest finish of 14th in 2002. He also has a Nationwide Series start in 2006 and a Camping World Truck Series start in 2005.

He completed his own "Grand Slam of Kansas Speedway" by running in an IZOD IndyCar Series race for Andretti Autosport.

"I had never been here in an IndyCar," Andretti said. "I've been here in Cup, Nationwide and a Truck. It drives completely different in an IndyCar. In those other cars you use the whole race track, but in the IndyCar you used the bottom of the race track. You feel the bumps more. This is one of the more difficult ovals they run on and without a lot of cautions pit road is difficult to get to."

Andretti Autosport had five cars in Saturday's race: Tony Kanaan was third, Ryan Hunter-Reay fifth, John Andretti ninth, Danica Patrick 11th and Marco Andretti 13th.

Andretti used the race at Kansas Speedway as a warm-up for the 94th Indianapolis 500 on May 30.

"I can't be disappointed with this," Andretti said of his finish. "I felt if we finished in the top 10 that would be better than I could expect and we finished ninth. We ran up there, we ran good and we ran good on the long runs. Like everybody, I think we wish (Scott) Dixon hadn't caught it quite so good because then we could have finished a little better, but I'm pleased. We weren't perfect, but it was good for me. I had a good time."

John Andretti's desire to race any type of car is what sets him apart from today's more specialized drivers. And, it left a positive impression on the youngest Andretti in IndyCar.

"John is one of us to where he has the passion for it and just loves to drive," Marco Andretti said. "And, he's good."

John Andretti is just as comfortable in a NASCAR Camping World Truck as he is an IndyCar. He has the feel for the Nationwide Series car just the same as in the Sprint Cup ride.

That makes him either a man of all (racing) seasons or a driver without a full-time series.

"I'm pretty much homeless," Andretti said. "I like racing. I'm at the point where I want to spend time with my kids. I don't want them leaving the house and not knowing who their dad was. So I'm running a limited schedule. When I run an IndyCar I feel like I'm 18 again. Even though I've raced IndyCar for years it's like starting over again. That is good for a driver."

The decision to compete in a race before the Indy 500 is an important one because he will already be familiar with his team when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens on May 15.

"For me the agenda is different than the other drivers and it is to get a good race in," Andretti said. "Their focus is how to win and I'm coming off the bench warming up. It's to get a car and establish a baseline and work with the team. We are looking for a solid race and as good as the car is and the team is we can have a good result.

"It's getting used to the team and the engineering staff and working with teammates. I've never really had teammates throughout my career. I'm kind of like the new guy on the block. I have a lot to learn and time is going to help. A couple years ago I ran the Indianapolis 500 and then four races afterwards. If I could have run those four races before Indy I would have been better at Indy. So that is why we decided to do this race."

While A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti were legendary for their diversity in driving other cars, there are few drivers today that get to run in more than one series. Danica Patrick is trying the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year with JR Motorsports while remaining a full-time IndyCar competitor.

But Andretti is heading back to the good old days when drivers could be just as comfortable racing against the IndyCar drivers as they were racing against NASCAR's best.

What does this year's IZOD IndyCar Series Championship have in common with an old foreign film?

Sub-titles.

Using an idea that was first proposed by CART in 1996, there will be an oval champion and a street and road course champion crowned in addition to the overall IZOD IndyCar Series champion.

During the great split involving the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis 500, there was a movement to have CART in charge of all street and road course races while the IRL could be in charge of oval racing, an attempt to have all teams compete in the 1996 Indy 500. Obviously, that idea was never accepted and it led to two separate open-wheel racing series from 1996 until unification in February 2008.

Using the current championship points system, the highest-scoring oval and road/street drivers will be crowned champion of their respective racing discipline. The road title will be handed out on Aug. 22 at Infineon Raceway, while the oval contest will conclude Sept. 19 at Twin Ring Motegi. The Oct. 2 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be reserved to honor the overall IZOD IndyCar Series champion.

Drivers will compete for bonuses presented to both category champions, with the purse to be announced at a later date.

The IZOD IndyCar Series champion will be determined with the same scoring system that has created some of the most compelling and exciting championship races in any form of racing.

"I think that is a good idea," said current IndyCar points leader Will Power. "There are certain drivers who are very good on ovals but not on road courses and vice versa. We all want to win the overall championship but this will make it more interesting."

IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard said he is attempting to find sponsorship for a "Triple Crown," where if the same driver and team won all three titles they would receive a major financial bonus.

"I don't know what the big picture needs to be there," said Target/Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull. "Our anticipation is with that announcement there will be some big things that go along with it. We want to wait and see how we are affected with global championships. But the bottom line is you have to win enough races and gather enough points to be the IndyCar champion. That is still the most important thing in the IndyCar Series outside of winning the Indianapolis 500."

When Danica Patrick is finished as a race driver, she might pursue a career as a clothing designer.

"It's a lot of fun," she said. "I guess I'm kind of creative and I like to play around and create things. When I was young I would cut up clothes how I wanted and create my own style. I would like to get in a little deeper into that as my career goes on for an after-career, career."

Earlier this year, Patrick appeared on an episode of "CSI: New York," but wasn't fond of the long days of filming.

"I never committed to the actress thing," Patrick said. "There is a lot of standing around with acting. The last shoot went from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and we didn't even think of eating."

Tony George returned to the track for an IZOD IndyCar Series race for the first time this season. George, who resigned from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Board of Directors on Dec. 31, 2009 and announced he was shutting down Vision Racing in January, has watched the 2010 season from a distance.

He will be part of the Indianapolis 500 with a joint effort involving Panther Racing and Vision Racing for driver Ed Carpenter.

As George walked up pit lane prior to the start of Saturday's 300-mile race, he stopped and spoke with Randy Bernard, the man who eventually replaced him as CEO of the IndyCar Series.

George was frequently stopped by IndyCar team members and team owners who welcomed him back.

"It feels great to be back," George said. "I'm really looking forward to the start of May at the Speedway. That's when it's really going to feel good to be back because we'll have a car to run."

George indicated the shortened schedule takes away some practice time that he would like to have for Carpenter's entry, but is confident his stepson will get up to speed quickly for the Indy 500.

During the race, George spent significant time in the Newman/Haas Racing pit area speaking with team owner Carl Haas.

"I stopped reading the Twitter comments because people don't say nice things." -- Danica Patrick, whose slow start to the IZOD IndyCar Series and her struggles in NASCAR Nationwide Series have led to some negative comments on Twitter.

"We've been in there a lot. I don't know why we keep popping up in there. I guess we are relevant in some realm. You learn a lot of new stuff about yourself that you never knew before. The Enquirer is pretty creative. I have to hand it to them." -- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on a report in The National Enquirer that he was involved in a scandalous affair.

Some things are just more important than a NASCAR race, and Mother's Day is one of those occasions. That is why NASCAR's annual trip to historic Darlington Raceway is held on Saturday night instead of Sunday. But with this race ending late Saturday night, plan on celebrating the day with Mom a little later.

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