WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) - Jeff Gordon and crew chief Ray Evernham saw the light more than a decade ago, and road racing in the Sprint Cup Series has never been the same.
Mark Martin won three straight races at Watkins Glen International in the early 1990s. But Gordon, with Evernham atop the pit box for the rainbow-colored No. 24 Chevrolet, matched the feat from 1997-99 and took it a giant leap forward. He won three straight times on the road course at Sonoma (1998-2000), though the final victory of the streak came after Evernham had left Hendrick Motorsports to form his own team.
"I feel like we put a good amount of effort into our road-course package, improving the brakes and the cooling and dialing in the transmission gearing," said Gordon, who finished second at Sonoma in June to Truex. "I think that not everybody looked at the road courses, they kind of looked at road courses as throwaway races in some cases. That's just not the case now."
Gordon has upped his resume to a series-record nine road-course wins on the two tracks the Cup series visits annually, but it's been more than a decade since he notched his fourth and last victory at Watkins Glen. That was in 2001 when he started 13th and held off Jeff Burton for the win.
Today, there is plenty of competition: Tony Stewart has seven road-course wins; Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya have two apiece; and five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr., and Clint Bowyer have won once.
"Everybody takes these races very serious," Gordon said. "The cars can't be manipulated as much, everybody has good brakes and everybody has all the equipment that you need to go be competitive. So then it just comes down to the driver pushing the limits of the car and the team engineering, finding the right package to go fast at those tracks."
The new Gen-6 car has been fast all year, and the competition is tight heading to Sunday's Cup race, the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen.
"I still think there are a handful of guys that are real big threats, the guys like Juan (Montoya) and Marcos (Ambrose)," Gordon said. "But there's a bunch of other guys that are holding their own and putting up good laps, qualifying well and maintaining pace during the race, which makes it just more challenging than it's ever been. The cars are as competitive against one another as they've ever been, as well."
Truex easily held off Gordon for the victory at Sonoma and credits Ambrose, a two-time V8 Supercar Champion in his native Australia before coming to NASCAR, for MWR's road-course success.
"When I first came there, Marcos was there and he really helped elevate that program," Truex said. "He definitely really led us in the right direction without a doubt."