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The Callahan Report: Ford or Gordon at Richmond?

3 September 1997

RICHMOND, VA: You need either a Ford Thunderbird or a name like "Jeff Gordon" to win a NASCAR race in 1997. Ford Thunderbirds have won fourteen races in this year's Winston Cup Series. Chevrolet has won nine races, all with Gordon at the wheel. Ford drivers...and Gordon... are favored again this weekend. The speed masters of NASCAR head to Richmond, VA Saturday night for the Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400.

[ Jeff Gordon ] Jeff Gordon

Ernie Irvan, driving in his last season for Robert Yates Racing, is the defending champion of the event. Irvan charged from his sixteenth starting spot for the win and is considered one of the favorites to take victory again at the three quarter mile track. Irvan is out of the championship hunt for 1997. He is has nothing to lose and will be driving hard for the victory. Irvan will be driving the Skittles car (now occupied by Derrike Cope) for the 1998 NASCAR season.

Another favorite has to be the winner of the most recent race at Darlington. Jeff Gordon won the Mountain Dew Southern 500 and took home a one million dollar bonus in the process. The Southern 500 was the final selected race in the "Winston Million". To win the bonus money, so generously offered by R.J. Reynolds, a driver must win three of the selected four races. Gordon was the first winner of the Winston Million in twelve years. Bill Elliott won the prize in 1985. Gordon finished second to Irvan at Richmond last year.

[ Mark Martin ] Mark Martin

Mark Martin will be especially focused on the Richmond race. Martin won the pole last year on the Richmond high banks. The driver of the Valvoline Ford Thunderbird, Martin is in a tight battle for the 1997 NASCAR championship. Martin trails Jeff Gordon by a slim twenty-five points heading to Richmond.

The most consistent top finisher the past ten races is Jeff Burton. The driver of the Exide Batteries car will be pushing especially hard at Richmondm, trying to win the event sponsored by the same company as his racing team. Burton was involved in a last lap shoot out with Gordon this past weekend. Burton clearly had the fastest car at Darlington. His slow pits stops kept him from "stealing" the Winston Million from the Winston Cup points leader. Burton is a proven winner with two victories earlier this season. Burton started and finish third in last year's Richmond classic.

[ Rusty Wallace ] Rusty Wallace

After taking a bundle of "provisional starts", Rusty Wallace will be looking to get back on track at Richmond. The 1989 NASCAR champion holds the race record at Richmond. He did it in this year's Spring race with an average race speed of 108.499 mph. Wallace drives for Roger Penske who fields cars in both NASCAR and CART. Penske cars in both series' have not lived up to their usual winning tradition this season. Wallace could change that at Richmond. It is one of his favorite "short tracks".

Dale Jarrett, also driving for Robert Yates, is in the thick of the Winston Cup hunt. Jarrett is in third place behind Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin. The driver of the Ford Quality Care car is keeping the pressure on as he finished third in last weekend's speed show at Darlington. Jarrett drove a consistent race here last year as he went from eighth to fourth. Jarrett and his "Over The Belt" Pit Crew have worked well together the last two seasons. Blazing pit stops, combined with great driving, gave the popular Jarrett his first short track victory two weeks ago at Bristol, TN. The Bristol event was also a night race. Jarrett is a strong favorite to take his second short track victory at Richmond.

The Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 will air on ESPN this Saturday, September 6th at 7:30 p.m. (ET). The race will be 400 laps (300 miles).

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel