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Gordon gives himself a birthday present

In record fashion and a day after his 28th birthday, Jeff Gordon becomes the 1st driver to win 3 Brickyard poles.

Jeff Gordon celebrated his 28th birthday Wednesday in Pittsboro, Ind., where the fine folk there named a county road in his honor.

"I was a little choked up," said Gordon, who lived most of his teenage years in the tiny town just off Interstate 74 coming west out of Indianapolis.

"To have a street named after you is pretty cool. They could have stuck me with some little road, but they got me the exit coming off the highway. That meant a lot to me."

Thursday, after he won the pole for Saturday's sixth running of the Brickyard 400, it was suggested that perhaps another street should bear the name Jeff Gordon Boulevard.

Not just any little road, either.

We're talking about the fastest stretch of pavement in all of Indiana. We're talking Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"I don't know about that," an amused Gordon said.

It is, after all, pretty lofty stuff for a guy who has never driven in the Indianapolis 500. A guy who races stock cars for a living.

But consider:

By lapping the 2.5-mile speedway at a qualifying record 179.612 mph, comfortably faster than fellow front-row starter Mark Martin's 178.941 and a smidgen better than Ernie Irvan's 1998 mark of 179.394, Gordon won his third pole in six Brickyard tries.

Martin's good run was spoiled by an accident in which he was struck on pit road by 17th-place qualifier Rusty Wallace, damaging the right-front fender of Wallace's No. 2 Ford and crumpling sheet metal on the driver's side of Martin's No. 6 Ford.

Neither was injured and both are expected to make requisite repairs.

David Green qualified a surprising third at 178.902 mph, and will start third next to Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett. Michael Waltrip qualified fifth, marking just his second top-5 start of 1999.

Gordon, meanwhile, has started third or better in four of the past five NASCAR races here.

And the three-time Winston Cup champion has won the Brickyard 400 twice (1994, '98).

In short, Gordon owns this track.

Still, he downplays the success he has had so close to the home where he was raised.

"Mastery? There's no mastery to it," Gordon said of his good Indy fortune. "If the car sticks, it sticks. If it doesn't, it doesn't."

It hasn't many times this season for Gordon, who is mired in sixth place in the point standings despite leading in earnings ($3,916,441), capturing seven poles (three more than next-closest Bobby Labonte) and winning four races (tied with Jeff Burton for the most).

Eleven top-5 finishes have been countered by five DNFs, three more than Gordon had in 1998.

"This has not been a stellar year for accumulating points," he said. "(But) we're still winning races and winning poles and very capable of still doing a lot this year."

Especially when his car sticks. And Thursday, the No. 24 Chevrolet stuck, so much so that even Martin conceded, and attempted to explain, the reality of how well Gordon runs here.

"He's a better driver than most of us, if not all of us. And I think he drives a better car than most of us, if not all of us," Martin said. "So when you put that all together, it's a hard combination to beat."

Compliment intended. Compliment accepted.

"Coming from a guy like Mark, that means a lot to me," Gordon said. "I don't know who the best driver in this garage area is. I think Mark is one of them.

"(But) I don't know if it always really matters who the best is. . . . I think all that really matters is who makes the best combination."

One point cannot be argued: Gordon's car was fastest Thursday.

"There's certain cars you drive and (they) go mmmph. That feels good," Gordon said. "This was one of those cars from the start. It felt good. It just has that feel that I like in a race car.

"That's qualifying stuff. We didn't get to run some of our longer runs in the test, so it'll be interesting to see what happens. We'll see if that thing feels mmmph for Saturday."

If it does, more new street signs really may be in order.

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