GORDON-Stewart peace treaty could be tested at Glen

Thursday, August 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) _ A dash to the checkered flag between Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart could be the most interesting finish of the NASCAR season. And it could happen Sunday at Watkins Glen.

Although they say the bitterness of the past will be forgotten when they strap themselves into their cars for the Global Crossing, that might not be so easy.

Gordon went into the wall here last August after Stewart crowded and hit him, ruining Gordon's chance to set a record. Then Stewart spun from contact with Gordon in Bristol, Tenn., in March, banged into his car on pit road after the race and was placed on probation.

But Stewart is a force on the track, and on Sunday, he and Gordon, the two best road-racers on the Winston Cup circuit, figure to be competing side by side. They say they'll hardly notice.

``Tony's a fierce competitor and when he's in front of me, he's my biggest rival,'' Gordon said. ``The next driver I'm trying to pass is my biggest rival until I get by them.''

Gordon tried that on the second lap last August and wound up with a damaged car and an end his bid to become the only driver to win seven road-course races. He had won the previous three here.

In the garage area after last year's race, Gordon accused Stewart of crashing into him intentionally and threatened to do the same in the future. Now, he insists, there is no lingering resentment.

Stewart also played down their past scraps.

``We all moved on a long time ago,'' he said.

Still, they are intense racers, unlikely to make any pass an easy task for the other. And while neither was reluctant to talk about last year, both say they are concentrating on matters far more important.

``Tony and I race every week, we both want to win and you can't let last year's incident become a distraction,'' Gordon said. ``If it becomes a distraction, then you lose your focus.''

``You can't dwell on things like that in our sport and retain a competitive edge,'' Stewart said.

Gordon, a three-time Winston Cup champion, left Indianapolis five days ago with his fourth win of the season and a 160-point lead over Dale Jarrett in the standings. So, he has a greater need to be conservative than Stewart, a two-time winner this season who stands fifth, 324 points back.

Both realize they have more than each other to beat.

``You look at a guy like Jeff Gordon, the road-course king, and see that he kind of missed it at Sonoma,'' said Stewart, who won that California road race. ``He's probably not going to miss it again at Watkins Glen. So, he's going to make everyone better.''