Jeff Gordon is one of those drivers with no worries about making the field for NASCAR's Nextel Cup tournament.
Still, Gordon has no thoughts of experimenting or taking chances in an extraordinary effort to win. Under the new points system, success is worth very little, and failure is not severely punished this late in the season for those firmly entrenched in the top 10.
"We are looking to build momentum as we enter the final 10 races, and that's done by running consistent, fighting for the wins and finishing in the top five," Gordon said. "I don't want to change that game plan."
If the season were to end today, Gordon would be five points behind teammate and series leader Jimmie Johnson and five ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. to begin the Cup chase. That's the increment under which the points will be reset for the top 10 drivers after five more races.
Under the old system, Johnson's current 97-point lead over Gordon would play itself out to the end.
Now, Gordon -- fresh from winning Indy's Brickyard 400 -- is at the Watkins Glen International road course, where his four victories are the standard. Two months ago, he won for the fourth time in Sonoma, Calif. -- on the other NASCAR road course.
"Our track record at the road courses speaks for itself," Gordon said.
His eight victories on the serpentine layouts also are a NASCAR record.
Still, Gordon is making no assumptions about the Sirius at The Glen on Sunday. Twice he has lost on the 2.45-mile track after contact with other drivers took him from contention.
"I feel like we had the best car in 2003," Gordon said.
He set a qualifying record of 124.580 mph but fell to the end of the field when Greg Biffle spun him out on the first turn of the race.
But the last lap was even worse. After racing all the way back to third, Gordon ran out of gas on the 11th and final turn. He was hit first by Earnhardt, then clobbered by Kevin Harvick and wound up facing the wrong way against the fence just 200 feet from the finish line.
Until the car sputtered, he made it look easy. But neither that performance nor his road-course excellence threatens to push Gordon across the line between confidence and cockiness.
"I can't remember a time when it was easy," he said. "It seems there is always someone that is running well at the road courses."
Burton Makes His Move
When Jeff Burton jumps into a Chevrolet for the first time next week, he expects to give Richard Childress Racing a solid effort at Michigan International Speedway.
Burton, a 17-time winner in NASCAR's top series, will move from Roush Racing to the Childress team, where he will replace Dave Blaney. Burton has competed exclusively in Fords since 1993 and realizes it might take some time to feel comfortable in a Chevy.
"It better not take long; they're not going to wait for us," Burton said Friday at Watkins Glen International, where he'll take his last ride for Roush. "No matter what happens, they don't wait to hold these races for you."
Childress said no time will be wasted in an attempt to reduce the severity of Burton's learning curve.
"We're going to start bright and early Monday morning," the car owner said.
But that could be delayed if Sunday's Sirius at The Glen is postponed. The forecast is for rain from approaching Hurricane Charley, which would upset the Chevy indoctrination plan.
Weather took its toll Friday, when qualifying was rained out, putting Nextel Cup points leader Johnson on the poll. Teammate Gordon will start second as he tries for his fourth win in seven races and series-leading sixth overall.
Rain is expected Saturday, meaning the cars could be denied practice time. Johnson would like the seat time, but cherishes the gift pole.
"It's important to have track position here and you can't ask for anything better than the position we're in," Johnson said. "We're in good shape."
The Glen Gets a Facelift
Rusty Wallace's gripes about Watkins Glen have not been for nothing.
A $4.5 million capital improvement project is under way at Watkins Glen International, including a revamping of the garage area, which had been the bane of race teams since NASCAR's Cup series began racing here in 1986.
"Obviously, there are some things that needed to be addressed. It wasn't a secret," track president Craig Rust said.
The small doors of the garage built in the early 1970s produced the loudest complaints. Only one car could drive through at a time, but the area inside had to accommodate two race teams. That forced each pair of race cars to park at a V-shaped angle and created a cramped work area.
Work crews have widened each door 10 feet, and the entire building has a new roof and paint job for the race on Sunday.
"Now, they'll actually be able to just drive in and not have to worry if the other team is going out," said Julie Giese, director of public relations at Watkins Glen International. "They won't be arguing. They're going to share a door, but at least now they'll have their own stall."
That already has silenced Wallace, the most vocal critic among the drivers.
"My hat's off to those guys," said Wallace, a two-time winner of NASCAR's road race at the Glen. "It was so bad there that we had guys elbowing each other from team to team trying to get the jacks up under the cars.
"The bottom line is that our sport has grown so far and so fast that the tracks have to keep up," Wallace said. "When you look at all the tracks wanting dates and all, it's definitely in their best interest to make these changes."