Evernham, until Sunday the only Winston Cup crew chief Gordon had ever had, coached him to 47 wins and three Winston Cup championships. He was widely considered the man who made Gordon. After Evernham left Hendrick Motorsports last week—apparently to lead a new NASCAR superteam to be fielded by DaimlerChrysler in 2001—even insiders thought Gordon's career might sputter.
Gordon and Whitesell, who had been Evernham's top assistant, were badgered all weekend: Could they manage without their mentor? On Sunday they answered resoundingly.
Whitesell, whose Virginia Tech engineering degree might make him NASCAR's best-educated crew chief, ordered his crew to set up Gordon's car so that it worked better on old tires than on new ones. Then, when leader Earnhardt pitted for new rubber under a caution flag raised on lap 475, Whitesell and Gordon agreed via two-way radio that Gordon would stay on the track, inherit the lead and try to hold off what they knew would be a ferocious charge by Earnhardt when the green flag came out for the final sprint.
"I've never wanted to win so bad in my life!" Gordon said between a bout of ecstatic horseplay with Whitesell and breaking into tears in victory lane. "I saw 3 [Earnhardt's car] on my bumper, and I knew it was going to be close because my tires were pretty old. But it was a great call by Brian in the pits."
Leave it to Earnhardt, the grizzled NASCAR bad boy who has picked on Gordon for years, to put it best—and pay the winner an enormous compliment. "Just proves," said Earnhardt, "that Gordon wins no matter who's crew chiefin'."
If a classy-looking antique hit the market at a bargain price, you might grab it even if you weren't sure it was undamaged or would fit in with the rest of your decor. That's why the Trail Blazers dealt six players for Scottie Pippen last week. No matter how delighted Portland general manager Bob Whitsitt was after acquiring Pip-pen, the truth is that the Blazers can't be sure which man they're getting—the versatile forward who has been one of the NBA's best all-around players for more than a decade, or the malcontent who blasted Charles Barkley on his way out of Houston and has never seemed happy without Michael Jordan by his side.
If the Blazers aren't sure what Pippen is, they should at least be clear on what he isn't. At 34, with a history of back ailments, he's not quite the swift, agile slasher he was when he helped Jordan build the Bulls' dynasty. Pippen may not know it, but he's also not the type of leader who can impart six championships' worth of locker room wisdom. He's more likely to grumble about his teammates than to inspire them, as the Rockets found out.
The Blazers, a deep and talented group that includes young stars Brian Grant, Damon Stoudamire and Rasheed Wallace, might need only a scaled-down version of Pippen's former self to become championship material, and they paid a small enough price. In trading center Kelvin Cato, forwards Carlos Rogers and Walt Williams, and guards Stacey Augmon, Ed Gray and Brian Shaw, Portland got Pippen without giving up a starter. Still, a year from now the Blazers will probably reach the same conclusion the Rockets did—that Pippen is one of those antiques that look better from a distance than up close. If that happens, Portland can always put him on the market again. Despite a price tag of $53 million over the next four years, Pippen will still prove irresistible to some NBA shopper.
Chicks Dig the Oblong Ball