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Engine problems have hurt Gordon this season



Published: Fri, October 27, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



We're running out of Jeffs at the top of the NASCAR Nextel Cup standings. More to the point, four-time champion Jeff Gordon's Drive for 5 has stalled.

After the Dover 400, Gordon trailed Jeff Burton by six points and seemed to be gaining momentum.

If Gordon had led one lap and finished one position ahead of Burton at Kansas, the points lead would have been his.

Instead, Gordon's fuel pump failed with 29 laps remaining and he finished 39th.

That took Gordon from second to sixth in points heading into Talladega, and he faced a 120-point deficit. For every driver, Talladega is something of a crapshoot, but Gordon had scored two wins in his previous five starts there.

This time, he did not see the end of the race, let alone Victory Lane. Gordon wrecked in "the big one" on Lap 138, settled for 36th and fell another 27 points behind.

The race at Charlotte was the killer. After failing to finish three consecutive races at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Gordon appeared to be on a redemption run. He led some laps and was running in the top 10 most of the race until his engine died with 33 laps left. Gordon's 24th-place finish, his third straight DNF, knocked him into the cellar of the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup.

Gordon never gives up - he's ninth now, 141 behind new leader Matt Kenseth after a top-five finish at Martinsville - but there's only so much the driver can control from behind the wheel.

He took a bit of the blame for being in the wrong place at the wrong time at Talladega, but mechanical failures have hurt him.

Crew chief Steve Letarte, in his first full season, says the team isn't missing anything.

Letarte and Gordon have the same resources as fellow Hendrick Chasers Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.

"I'm really proud of the team and the driver, how we performed, especially after our off season last year," Letarte said. "We've done everything we've wanted to do. We've won races; we made the Chase; we've had spectacular cars in the Chase. We're going to take these last [races] and try to work on next year to make sure that we're in the Chase again."

Lee Spencer covers NASCAR for The Sporting News NASCAR News Service.




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