NASCAR Drivers Exchange Words

Monday, August 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart realized they might be battling side by side at Watkins Glen International.

But they certainly had no way of knowing their most memorable exchange Sunday would be one of words in the garage area. And it will be remembered longer in NASCAR than Steve Park's thrilling victory over Mark Martin in the Global Crossing.

``I'll slam you into the wall the first chance I get,'' Gordon shouted at Stewart after both emerged from their cars, which had banged into each other only two laps into the race.

``Come over here and we'll talk about it,'' Stewart shouted back as crewmen stood between the drivers near their adjacent haulers. ``All I'm saying, Jeff, is make up your mind.''

Gordon refused, and the argument became a short exchange of profanities before both disappeared inside their haulers. Stewart didn't return, and his team issued a statement saying he hadn't tried to hit Gordon.

``I thought I had given him enough room, but I guess I didn't,'' the statement said.

Earlier, Stewart lectured Gordon on his driving.

``You'd better practice what you preach,'' yelled Stewart, who ran Gordon into a guard rail. ``You're always telling me to take it easy on the first lap. You think I did it on purpose?''

Gordon was especially upset because the crash cost him any chance he might have had to increase his Winston Cup record of six straight road-course victories. Another would have made him the greatest winner in the series on the serpentine courses where NASCAR races twice each summer.

Later, he calmed down, and agreed to interviews, during which he didn't entirely blame Stewart. He said it was more a case of two drivers going for the same spot on the track.

``I've been saying all weekend that if we don't win it, I sure would like to have a good, strong finish, and we just didn't have that opportunity,'' he said.

Both drivers have a history of disagreements with others. Gordon argued with Dale Jarrett last year after bumping by him. Stewart threw heat shields at the late Kenny Irwin last year, and had a mini shoving match with Robby Gordon to open this season.

Park, who started 18th, drove his Chevrolet to a five-length victory over Martin's Ford.

The victory on the 2.45-mile road course in the Finger Lakes came in Park's 77th start. He best previous finish was fourth, earlier this season in Hampton, Ga.

After the race, he stopped in front of the grandstand, climbed on top of his car and raised his arms in triumph. Most of all, he was proud of how he won it, saying it was no fluke.

``We had to race our guts out against a guy who's known for winning a lot of races,'' said the 32-year-old driver from East Northport, N.Y.

Park felt relieved to finally become a winner and contribute at Dale Earnhardt Inc., which employs Dale Earnhardt Jr. as its other driver.

``We fly a flag if one of the DEI drivers wins,'' he said, noting that flags have flown for his teammate and for car owner Dale Earnhardt, a seven-time series champion who drives for Richard Childress Racing. ``Now, there's Steve Park's. That's an honor.''

Park took the lead for the first time on the 31st of 90 laps and stayed out front until pitting on lap 58. After regaining the lead under caution at the end of the 64th lap, Park held off Jeff Burton, who at one point closed within a car-length.

Burton, teammate Martin and Robby Gordon got into a brief, side-by-side battle, and Park was not seriously challenged again until the final five laps. Martin, one of the sport's great road racers, got within a length three times, but each time Park held on.

Park didn't make a mistake in the closing laps and was thrilled to win the way he did.

``To beat Jeff Burton and Mark Martin on a road course is an astounding feat,'' he said.

Burton was third, followed by Robby Gordon in a Ford and the Pontiac of points leader Bobby Labonte.

The winner led twice for 54 laps and averaged 91.336 mph in a race slowed for 13 laps by five caution flags. There were eight lead changes among seven drivers.

Gordon wound up 23rd after he was penalized midway through the race for jumping a restart as he was trying to get back a lost lap. Stewart finished sixth.

Rusty Wallace, tied with Gordon in road-course victories, spun off the track on the 28th lap, and wound up 34th.

Series champion Jarrett was seventh, and trails Labonte by 101 points.