Gordon not sweating weak finish with a track that he owns on tap

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:33 PM ET

TORONTO - Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon certainly didn’t do himself any favours with a 12th-place finish at Dover International Speedway, but the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team has to be licking its chops at the prospect of Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday.

Gordon may have dropped to ninth — 19 points back of co-leaders Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards — but his record at the Kansas 1.5-mile oval is second to none.

In 11 starts, Gordon has a pair of wins with eight top fives and nine top 10s. According to NASCAR loop data his 8.1 average finish at Kansas is best among the 12 Chase drivers.

“This has been a great track for us,” Gordon said Tuesday in a team release. “I hope we run like we did earlier this year.”

That June 5 race was his to win but for an extra litre of gas. Gordon still wound up fourth.

“I feel like Kansas is where we really turned the corner this year with our 1.5-mile program,” he said. “We ran really strong and I felt like we had a shot at winning that race.”

Gordon said with seven races left in the Chase, he still considers himself a contender for his fifth NASCAR crown.

“We’ve had only one good race (Loudon) out of three, but we’re down only 19 points,” he said. “That doesn’t have to be made up in one event. Seven races is a lot of races. (But) I think this No. 24 team is strong enough to put a string of seven good races together.”

WICKENS POISED FOR CHAMPIONSHIP

With two races left this season in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, Canada’s Robert Wickens is poised to add a major international racing championship to his already impressive resume.

He leads the series by a slim two points over France’s Jean Eric Vergne as they head to Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya on Saturday and Sunday for the final two rounds of the championship.

Wickens has four wins and nine podium finishes this season. He has also been on standby since the Canadian Grand Prix in June as reserve driver for the Virgin Marussia Formula One squad.

The 22-year-old Wickens has a good record at Catalunya — a pair of pole positions and a third-place podium finish in F2 two seasons ago while last year he again reached the podium with a second-place finish in GP3 — which should favour him in the last two R3.5 Series events.

“If things go well I’ll win the championship and if they don’t I’ll finish second,” Wickens said on Tuesday. “It’s really an all-or-nothing weekend, but I believe Saturday will be the key. If we have a strong showing then it’ll help make Sunday a little bit easier.

“We just have to wait and see what happens though. I like the circuit, it’s one of my favourites and I’ve run well there in the past. We’ve had a quick car all season long and I’m hoping we can maintain our form and lead from the front.”

TEXAS TALES

Ever since Bernie Ecclestone granted a group of Austin, Tex., businessmen a date on the 2012 Formula One calendar, there have been rumours that the whole deal is smoke and mirrors. Now the Austin American-Statesman newspaper is reporting that there is real trouble brewing in the U.S. Grand Prix group and that construction of the Circuit of the Americas is way behind schedule. According to the newspaper, USGP investors, including Texas billionaire Red McCombs, are divided about how to get the circuit and the financing done before next year. One of the group — promoter Tavo Hellmund — has apparently asked Texas state comptroller Susan Combs to see if the state would still be in for $250 million US of the cost of the race if there was a “change in management” of the USGP. The Statesman also reports that construction on the 3.4-mile road course “has slowed dramatically in the past few months. The story noted that work on the grandstands, paddock and medical centre have yet to be even started.

FINISH LINES

Sarah Fisher Racing won the first race of its four-year IndyCar run at Kentucky on Sunday, but may not be able to field a team for the 2012 season after primary sponsor Dollar General served notice it won’t be back next season. Speaking of Dollar General, it has also severed ties with NASCAR Nationwide Series Turner Motorsports, which just dropped Reed Sorenson in favour of Brian Vickers in the No. 32 Toyota for the next two NNS races ... Michael Waltrip Racing is expected to sign Clint Bowyer to a contract for 2012 this week.

DIXON A CHAMPION WITHOUT EVER WINNING A RACE

Only in the IZOD IndyCar Series can a driver — in this case Scott Dixon — win a championship without ever winning a race.

Dixon was awarded the A.J. Foyt Oval Trophy on Sunday after he finished third at the Kentucky Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

The oval championship — awarded to the IndyCar driver with the most points accumulated turning only left — was awarded to Dixon for his seven top-5 finishes this season.

He beat his Target Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti — who actually won two oval races — by 10 points.

For his efforts, Dixon was presented with a cheque for $50,000 US.

DEAN’S RANT

You have got to love Formula One.

It doesn’t give a damn about its paying customers and makes no attempt to hide that fact.

With four Grand Prix still to go, starting Sunday in Japan, F-1 teams — except for Red Bull — have all but thrown in the towel on the 2011 season.

They essentially are saying to ticket holders in Japan, South Korea, India and Brazil that they won’t really be giving their all in these events because Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have the driver and constructor championships wrapped up with a tidy, little bow.

Don’t believe me?

Just check out what Ferrari’s chief designer Nikolas Tombazis had to say this week about his team’s plans for the remainder of the season.

Tombazis wrote on the team’s website that the team’s focus is already on 2012, with the new car already in production.

“I hope the results will speak for themselves when we launch the car and more importantly, as we tackle the first few races on the calendar (in 2012),” Tombazis said on Ferrari’s website.

That has to be cold comfort for Fernando Alonso as he attempts to win in a car Ferrari obviously has already given up on.

‘S--- HAPPENS’

It has been that kind of season for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Just when things look like they are headed in the right direction, something completely out of his control happens to the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team.

Take Sunday at Dover International Speedway, where Earnhardt looked as if he could bust into the top half of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.

But as he was moving to the front, the car suffered a broken sway bar that put him in a big hole just 20 laps into the 400-lap event.

No problem, the team got him back out in time for Earnhardt to make another run to the front.

He made all they way up to 14th before only to be struck with bad luck again when a loose wheel forced him back into the pits for another green flag stop.

With 100 laps left Earnhardt was two laps down and eventually finished 24th.

“That’s racin’,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “That’s all I can say. I’ve had a lot of s--- happen to me over the years, good and bad. I’ve just kinda got to roll with the punches.

“I wish we could have finished in the top 10, where I think we could have. You know, to show what we’re capable of doing ... We’re a good team, and I think we can run well.”


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