Robby Gordon is the driver to beat any time the NASCAR Nextel Cup series finds itself at a road course.
He's the favorite going into the Dodge/Save Mart 350 today, a race he dominated last year and won on the 1.99-mile, 10-turn Infineon Raceway circuit. Gordon made it a road-course double last August by winning in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
The Richard Childress Racing driver is justifiably proud of his ability on the road courses. So it was a surprise when he chose to use one of his limited number of official tests at Infineon earlier this month.
"We are pretty confident we have the road-course game dialed in, but there is always room for improvement," Gordon said. "Some people asked me why we were going out there to test, but it just made sense.
"Practice makes perfect, right? Plus, we work all year long turning left, and to get one of these 3,400-pound stock cars to turn right is completely different, and it also just helped me get back into the shifting groove."
Gordon said the team concentrated on gear boxes and transmissions during the test as well as feeling out the newly paved track.
"We have a good baseline that won both races last year to fall back on," he said. "We are just trying to improve from that, and you always have to keep improving in this sport.
"The minute you let up, a bunch of them will pass you real quick because it is just that competitive."
A win at Infineon would be a big boost for Gordon and his No. 31 Chevrolet team. He goes into the race 20th in the Cup standings and, more important, 293 points out of 10th place and 666 behind series leader Jimmie Johnson.
With NASCAR's new "Chase for the Championship," the top 10 and any other drivers within 400 points of the leader after 26 races will have the opportunity to compete for the title over the final 10 events.
The race Sunday will be the 16th of the season, so time is starting to work against Gordon.
The road courses present a big opportunity for the former open-wheel star, still trying to overcome points lost through crashes at Daytona and Rockingham in the first two races this season.
"We've been trying to come back every weekend, and it always seems like when you get behind, you end up making more mistakes because you are trying so much harder," he said.
Gordon he expects to make up some ground on the leaders on Sunday.
"Some of the other drivers currently ranked higher than us tend to struggle on road courses," he said. "So, if everything plays in our favor, we could make up 40 to 50 points on some of those top guys right now.
"If you look at two races like that and add them together, with Watkins Glen coming up, that could mean almost 100 additional points from where we are right now."
After testing, Gordon is confident he can win again -- if everything comes together as planned.
"Road racing does bring the driver out a bit more, but there are a lot of things that also come into play," Gordon said. "You have to have a pit crew that can get you in and out of the pits without losing five positions. You have to get good fuel mileage, manage your tires and maintain track position.
"The fastest car doesn't always win the race. It is about being on top of your game across the board to win the race."