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Gordon hopes to tie Earnhardt's win total with victory at Phoenix

MIKE HARRIS • Apr 21, 2007 at 1:00 AM

AVONDALE, Ariz. - When Jeff Gordon won last July at Chicagoland Speedway, the excitement began to build.

With 75 NASCAR victories, Gordon found himself just one win behind the late Dale Earnhardt, and the questions began: What's it going to feel like to match one of the all-time greats?

Well, 25 races later, Gordon still doesn't know.

The four-time series champion, who leads the Cup points standings, is seeking victory No. 76 in tonight's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (8 p.m., FOX).

He's had five top-five finishes and six top 10s in the first seven races this season - but no wins.

And the 1-mile oval at Phoenix is one of three active NASCAR tracks where Gordon, who will start from the pole tonight, has yet to win.

"I've been on the pole here. We've been fast here. We've been consistent here. We've been everything but in victory lane here," Gordon said, shaking his head and grinning.

"We're just going to work just as hard as we can - the same as we do everywhere. And I'm going to try not to make the mistake we made last week because I felt like we had a good shot at winning last week in Texas, and I blew that one."

At Texas, another track where he has yet to win, Gordon led with 21 laps to go when he scraped the wall and damaged his car's handling. He wound up fourth.

"I don't like giving up any win," Gordon said. "That one really hurt because I felt like we had a winning car.

"But as long as this team continues to give me the race cars that they're giving me right now and the effort they're giving me, then we're going to win races. And I would love it if it would come here. I would love to finally be able to get this one checked off our list so I don't have to hear that question again."

The wild card in tonight's race is NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow, running for the first time on a track longer than a half mile.

Even with preseason testing and this week's practice and qualifying, no one knows for sure how the bigger and boxier cars will race on a bigger track.

"I've warmed up to it a little bit because, as a team, I think we've found a little bit of the ingredients as to what this car needs to feel good," Gordon said. "But I'm still not convinced of this car in traffic. I think we'll learn a lot more (Friday in practice) when we're running around other cars. And then on Saturday, too."

Gordon said his Chevrolet Impala SS CoT hasn't been the easiest car to drive.

"When I took off in practice, the car would not turn in the middle of the corner," he said. "And I didn't think we'd ever get it to turn, to be honest. So our qualifying was promising.

"But I'm still not convinced. It's just physics. You've got a car punching a really big hole. You've got a car that has less downforce - especially front downforce. If you go behind that car, I don't see how you're going to be able to have downforce to be able to make the pass."

Kevin Harvick, who won both Cup races here last year, will start eighth tonight and is hopeful the CoT will be just as good as the Chevrolet he drove in 2006.

"The Impala SS is a lot different setup-wise than Martinsville or Bristol," Harvick said. "I think people are making a bigger deal of it than they have to. Obviously, we have some kinks to work out, but I think that is the responsibility of the drivers and the teams to make the cars better and, in the end, it is safety first. That's where we started."

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