Gordon Eyes Indy 500, Coca-Cola 600

Thursday, May 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The logistics of racing in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day are a nightmare.

Robby Gordon, who will attempt the feat on Sunday, has so many backup plans on his mind, he's practically dizzy.

``It's an incredible project,'' Gordon said before leaving Indianapolis to fly to Concord, N.C., where he failed to qualify Wednesday night for the NASCAR race at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

He flew back to Indianapolis on Wednesday night to shake down his Team Menard Dallara-Aurora in the ``Carburetion Day'' practice on Thursday.

That two-hour session — one of many hallowed traditions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — is the only time the cars are allowed on the racetrack from the end of qualifying the previous Sunday until the start of the 500-mile race.

After that practice session, Gordon, who had the 40th-fastest time Wednesday night, well off the time needed to be among the 25 qualifiers for the Coca-Cola field, will return to Concord and try to make the grid for Sunday night's race.

``I'm not going to blame it on the track. We've got more work to do,'' Gordon said of failing to qualify on the first night at Concord. ``The car was comfortable, it just didn't show any speed. I just don't know where to start to be honest with you.''

Meanwhile, Bryan Reffner, who drives for Team Menard in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series, is scheduled to practice in Gordon's No. 13 Ford on Saturday in Concord, and will stand by just in case Gordon doesn't make it in time for the start of Sunday's race.

If everything goes off on time — and rain in Sunday's forecast for Indianapolis could become a major stumbling block — Gordon will leave as quickly after the race as he can, taking a helicopter from the speedway infield to the airport.

John Menard, who is a partner in Gordon's Winston Cup team, will have his private jet standing by to take the driver to Concord, where he will board another helicopter for the quick flight to Lowe's Motor Speedway.

On the plane, a nurse will be standing by with intravenous fluids for Gordon to make sure he doesn't become dehydrated.

``When we started putting the schedule together, we realized that having a backup plan was a necessity all the way around,'' Gordon said. ``Putting Bryan in the car made sense for a number of reasons, one of which was that it keeps everything in the Menard's family.

``John was nice enough to let me drive one of his cars at Indy, so we decided to return the favor. Bryan's had a good season in the truck series, so I feel comfortable that he'll be a good replacement should something happen.

``But don't get me wrong, I'm going to do whatever it takes to get back in time.''

Gordon, 31, who has bounced back and forth between Indy cars and stock cars in recent years, isn't daunted by the difficult schedule.

``I'm actually looking forward to it,'' he said. ``It's something that not everybody has done before.''

The difficult double has only been done twice before.

John Andretti finished 10th in the 1994 Indianapolis 500. He got to the suburban Charlotte track in time to start the stock car race, but crashed out and finished 37th.

Last year, Tony Stewart finished ninth here, then took fourth in the 600-mile event.

In both cases, the drivers had qualified higher but had to start from the back of the stock car field after missing the driver's meeting. Gordon faces the same prospect, with the Indy race scheduled to begin at noon EDT and the Charlotte race set to start at 6:15 p.m.

``There are going to be some difficult obstacles to overcome and that's just one of them,'' Gordon said.

He took care of qualifying at Indy last Saturday, earning the starting spot on the inside of the second three-car row for the 500.

A year ago, Gordon was a regular in the CART series when he chose to drive a car entered by Menard at Indy, a race sanctioned by the rival Indy Racing League.

Gordon was virtually overlooked in pre-race predictions but came within six turns of winning the race, running out of fuel on the next-to-last lap as Kenny Brack drove past and took the victory.

Gordon, driving for his own team in NASCAR this season, hadn't even planned to be here. But Menard, whose full-time IRL driver is Indy pole-winner and defending series champ Greg Ray, gave Gordon the opportunity when sponsors stepped up for the Indianapolis effort.

``Our performance in Indy last year gave us a big lift and the sponsors know it will be good exposure for them,'' Gordon said.

Stewart, who ate almost nothing last year on race day and nearly ran out of gas physically, said Gordon should be able to handle Sunday's double just fine.

``He's a pretty sharp guy and he's pretty physically fit,'' Stewart said. ``I think he'll probably fare better physically than I did last year. I think nutrition-wise he'll know what to do to keep his energy up during the day.''