Dale Jarrett knew Jeff Gordon would eventually be back among the Winston Cup winners. After all, he is Jeff Gordon.
The Kid ended a 13-race winless string last Sunday in the DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, making it nine different winners in nine races this season.
The main reason Gordon has struggled since last October is change. He's got a new crew chief, a new team manager, a new Chevrolet Monte Carlo and an almost entirely new race-day crew.
''Jeff Gordon is capable of changing things in a hurry,'' said Jarrett, the defending series champion. ''But it does take time.''
Gordon's No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team was ahead of the competition for several years because of organization, leadership and Gordon's talent.
''But I think if they had everything back as it was before, the competition has caught up a lot, so it would be more difficult for them to be dominating,'' Jarrett said.
Jarrett, sixth in the standings, was 203 points behind leader Mark Martin after the first nine events of the 34-race season. He said the championship is still up for grabs.
''Everybody has been in an accident or had some type of problem,'' he said. ''I guess Mark's had the fewest problems and that's why he's on top.''
Last year, Jarrett ran away to his first series title thanks to consistency. He finished all but one race and had 24 top-fives and 29 top-10s.
''So far, nobody's been able to be consistent week after week after week,'' Jarrett said. ''But a lot of that is the competition -- it's tough.''
ROLLING STONE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is hip, or cool, or happening, or whatever youths call it these days.
The 25-year-old Winston Cup rookie, who came up with a victory in just the 12th start of his career, is the subject of a feature story in the latest issue of ''Rolling Stone.''
The story is titled: ''Kurt is my Co-Pilot,'' a reference to the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. It is subtitled: ''The Rock and Roll NASCAR Whiz Kid.''
DOWN TIME: It's been 10 arduous weeks -- Daytona 500 pole qualifying and nine races -- since the Winston Cup competitors have had a weekend off.
But most of them will be able to relax this weekend as the stock car series takes time off for Easter.
Few of the drivers had the whole week to themselves, though.
''Life will never give me a week off,'' said Kenny Wallace, whose Andy Petree Racing team spend Wednesday and Thursday testing in Richmond, Va. ''It doesn't want me to get used to free time because I might like it too much.''
The younger brother of Winston Cup star Rusty Wallace added, ''These breaks from our grueling schedule are important to a driver's sanity. We have very little time because we represent Fortune 500 companies 24 hours a day.
''I have to be on for 34 race weekends and over 20 sponsor appearances, which doesn't include the media requests, hospitality visits and everything else that comes with this deal.''
So what will Wallace do with the rare weekend off?
''You'll find me on my couch,'' he said.
SLOWING DOWN: Several teams remained in Talladega after last Sunday's race for a one-day test of new ways to slow the cars down on the 2.66-mile superspeedway oval.
Rookie Matt Kenseth drove Martin's No. 6 in the test.
''We helped NASCAR attempt to collect information to slow the cars down and increase the size of the restrictor plates to increase the throttle response,'' said Jimmy Fennig, Martin's crew chief. ''If we can increase the throttle response on the cars, that should make better racing for all of us.''
Some of the things NASCAR tried during the test were to increase downforce with a 65-degree spoiler on the car, raising the rear valance from 3 1/2 inches up to 6 inches, and adding a 1 inch wicker strip to the roof of the car near the windshield.
''I don't know what will come of this test, but at least we made an effort to help NASCAR find ways to improve restrictor-plate racing,'' Fennig said.
Martin finished sixth on Sunday, while Roush Racing teammate and protege Kenseth was 18th.
STAT OF THE WEEK: With his victory, three-time series champ Jeff Gordon climbed from 12th to seventh in the standings, 221 points behind Martin.
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