Martin: Catching Gordon Harder
Oct. 30, 1997
PHOENIX (AP) _ For Mark Martin, it's not too little but it may be too late in the race for the Winston Cup championship.
Despite 11 top-10 finishes in his last 14 starts, Martin has actually lost 73 points to series leader Jeff Gordon.
``That just shows you how hard this is,'' said Martin, who heads into Sunday's Dura-Lube 500 at Phoenix International Raceway trailing Gordon by 125 points and is just 20 points in front of hard-charging Dale Jarrett.
``Losing 15 points to Gordon and 25 points to Dale at Rockingham sure didn't help us any,'' said Martin, who lost precious ground despite finishing sixth Sunday at North Carolina Motor Speedway.
``I'm not sure the 15 points even helped Jeff all that much, or even helped Dale all that much,'' Martin said. ``All three of us finished in the top six. The problem is, I was the guy who was sixth. If Jeff gained anything, he gained some time, another race finished. Instead of three races to catch him, I have two now.''
Gordon needs only to finish 13th or better at Phoenix and in the finale on Nov. 16 at Atlanta Motor Speedway to wrap up the $1.5 million championship, his second in three years. But the 26-year-old racer is taking nothing for granted.
``We dodged a couple of bullets at Rockingham,'' said Gordon, who finished fourth, two positions behind Jarrett last Sunday. First, he slid on a wet track and scraped the wall on the second lap. Later, Gordon had to make an extra pit stop to repair the cap on his left rear hub, the piece that holds in the rear axle.
``We were fortunate,'' he said. ``We didn't really hurt the car when we rubbed the wall. And we were real lucky to find that hub problem during a caution so that we didn't lose too much ground. At Rockingham, we raced the guys we needed to race and did exactly what we had to do in the championship race. We need to do that two more times.''
Gordon, who finished second to teammate Terry Labonte last season, was fifth at Phoenix and third at Atlanta Martin, who was fifth in the points, was second to Bobby Hamilton at Phoenix and wrapped up the season with a seventh-place finish at Atlanta.
Jarrett, a career-best third in the standings last year after finishing eighth at Phoenix and second at Atlanta, figures he needs to do better than that to have any chance at the title.
``There's not much question that I have to win the last two races to have any real chance, and even then it would take those other guys have some pretty big problems,'' Jarrett said. ``It could happen, but I don't really expect it, too.
``We've had a tremendous year no matter what happens,'' he added. ``But, being this close, there's no way we'll give up until it's over.''
Practice and qualifying get underway Friday on the one-mile Phoenix oval.