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Going for the Talladega sweep
By: Charlie Young

Only five people have done it. One of them was Dale Earnhardt, and he did it last year. Only one man this year has a chance at doing it.

He won a record tying 13 races in one year. He won three NASCAR Winston Cup Championships in six seasons before he was 28. He won 50 races before the age of 29. Finally, he one the race at Talladega this spring already.

Yeah, you guessed it. Jeff Gordon.

If Jeff Gordon were to win the Winston 500 at Talladega, he would become only the fifth driver to do so at the "World's Fastest Closed Course". Oh yeah, he'd also be the first to win 4 Winston No Bull Million Dollar bonuses, adding to an already impressive list of firsts.

His victory last month at Richmond made him eligible for the $1 Million bonus for the first time since the race the Coca-Cola 600 in May of 1999.

However, with a new rules package implemented by NASCAR, many teams have been left wondering what will happen. Many of the drivers, including Gordon, don't know what to expect for sure.

Many teams tested the new rules at Daytona and they found that the aero rules caused the cars to leave a huge hole in the air, which made it very easy for cars to draft up on one another from a whole straightaway back. Also, larger holes in the restrictor plate holes will improve throttle response, which mill make passing easier.

"I expect a lot of leaders and a lot of lead changes," Gordon said. "Spotters will be busy letting us know where other cars are and possibly working deals with other teams."

"But the problem is deciding when all deals are off," Gordon said. "With four other drivers going for $1 million, you never know who you can trust."

Now, back to the sweep. Gordon won the race in the spring at this track, after starting in 36th. This time around, the team worked hard getting the car to work with the new rules and it payed off.

"I'm thrilled with that," Gordon said. "What a turnaround from 36th fastest the last time we were here to post a top-10 effort. We're real happy. It's a good, solid run for us. I take my hat off to these guys. They've worked their tails off to get it where it is. We've got a lot on the line with that Winston Million."

Much of the success that the team had in qualifying Gordon attributes to a test session at Talladega.

"We came here and had a real good test," Gordon said. "Everybody took the knowledge and what we learned from that test and put it into this race car and this race team for this weekend, and it's already showing up on the track. It was a great effort.

"We did a lot of work back at the shop and learned a lot from the test about the attitude of the car and what the restrictor plate was going to do to the engine and power and where we needed to be gearing-wise. I think that helped us unload close today and we could fine tune from there."

Gordon has two victories, six top-5s and seven top-10s at Talladega, and he has led 338 laps in 15 starts at the 2.66-mile layout.

"With these new rules, I expect the drivers to try different things during the race in anticipation of the last few laps," he said. "And then I expect the last few laps to be intense."