Without a full-time ride, Gordon has highest Indy start
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- There's one thing you can say about Robby Gordon. He doesn't give up.
After struggling in NASCAR's Winston Cup series, Gordon was fired by Morgan-McClure Motorsports last month. But he came to Indianapolis and now he's a front-row starter for the May 27 Indy 500.
"Actually, it's kind of nice sitting back being a free agent, being able to look around and pick the best opportunity," said Gordon, who will take the green flag from the outside of the first row, his best start in seven tries in the Indianapolis 500.
"I've been doing this for 15 years ... 30-plus races a year, and it's nice to sit back and grasp it in a little bit and think about what step you're going to take next," he said.
Gordon, 32, started fourth at Indy each of the past two years. His best finish was fourth in 1999, after he ran out of fuel while leading the race with just over one lap to go. He was sixth at Indy in his only IRL start last year, then returned to NASCAR.
"I'm going to try to put a program together for the Brickyard 400," he said of the Winston Cup race at Indianapolis in August. "That's a race I really would like to compete in this year. I feel with the right situation, we can be just as competitive at that race in qualifying as we were for this [Indy 500] race."
Gordon, driving for A.J. Foyt, qualified at a four-lap average of 224.994 mph. The only quicker qualifiers were Scott Sharp, who won the pole at 226.037, and Greg Ray, last year's pole-starter, at 225.194.
All but one spot in the 33-car lineup were filled in the first weekend of qualifications, with practice resuming Wednesday in preparation for the final round of time trials Sunday. Two-time Indy runner-up Roberto Guerrero is on the "bubble" with the slowest qualification average of 220.054 mph and would be the first to go when bumping begins.
Gordon drove his first Winston Cup race in 1991, but has never run a full schedule in NASCAR. His Indy 500 debut also was with Foyt in 1993, when he finished 27th. He finished among the top six in four of his next five starts at Indy.
Gordon ran his own Winston Cup operation last year, when he pulled off a rare double by racing in the Indianapolis 500 and in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Concord, N.C., on the same day.
He joined the Winston Cup team operated by Larry McClure in the winter and made the field for the first five races this season. His best finish, however, was 20th in Atlanta in March. The next month, he was out of a job.
"I've always been a cat," he said of his firing by McClure. "Once I get thrown, I always land on my feet running wide open. I'm looking forward to the next few months."
He doesn't dwell on how close he came to victory at Indianapolis two years ago.
"That year we had a very, very good race car. I've got to be honest," Gordon said. "When we decided to run hard at the end, we were running 220 [mph] laps and we were really strong.
"We had the strong enough car to win the race," he said. "We were gambling on one more lap of caution. And who would think in the last 40 laps of the Indy 500 you go caution free? We gambled when we shouldn't have.
"I think learning from that experience, I'll be smarter from the cockpit on helping with some of those calls. A.J., he knows what it takes around this place. He knows what it takes as far as fuel mileage."
Another Foyt driver, Eliseo Salazar, is second to Sam Hornish Jr. in the IRL season points but crashed twice in practice last week. On a qualification bid Sunday, he had three solid laps above 222 mph but blew an engine on the final lap, and the attempt was called off.
Salazar, Jim Guthrie, Steve Knapp, Billy Boat, Jimmy Kite, Stephan Gregoire and rookies Memo Gidley, Cory Witherill and Casey Mears have cars eligible to qualify Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.