An engine alliance with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (DEI), strong sponsor base and a body of learning gained in 2005 have car owner/driver Robby Gordon entering the 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season with visions of Victory Lane.

The 37-year-old, second-year owner tested his Robby Gordon Motorsports No. 7 Jim Beam Chevrolet at Kentucky Speedway today to solidify the intermediate track race package he will need to be competitive at upcoming series races at California Speedway Feb. 26 and Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 12.

"We went to Vegas and my car was a little bit free on entry, so we came back to the shop and changed the bodies around a little bit," Gordon said. "We're just evaluating our stuff here in Kentucky. We want to be sure when we show up in California and Vegas that we have a very good racecar so we can perform at the highest level."

Gordon made 29 NEXTEL Cup Series starts last season and finished 37th in the final standings last season with an average finish of 30th. Despite his 2005 finish, he has good reason to be optimistic about the upcoming year after closing out his previous campaign with an eighth-place performance at Phoenix International Raceway and a 14th-place finish in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "We learned a lot (last season). I talked about it at the end of last year when we started running well," Gordon said. "In the last couple races, we formed a relationship with DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) for our engine package. I feel really good about that."

DEI horsepower helped him place 22nd in Daytona 500 qualifying last Saturday and earned him the 10th starting spot in the second of two 150-mile qualifying races that make up Thursday's Gatorade Duel at Daytona.

"We qualified 22nd down at Daytona, which is quite a bit better than we did a year ago," he said. "You look at it, and we're only four tenths off the pole. We didn't miss it by much, but the competition is just so close right now in NEXTEL Cup racing. I think the Jim Beam Chevrolet is going to be very fast in the 150s this week. I feel pretty confident that if we get into the 500, we'll be in good shape there as well."

Should he make the 43-car field for Sunday's "Great American Race," he expects to experience the "bump drafting" which came under scrutiny following the Feb. 12 Budweiser Shootout.

"It's an evil necessity, unfortunately," Gordon said. "If you're going to be competitive in a restrictor- plate race, you better push somebody. If you just stay by yourself all day long you're not going to run up front.

"I know Tony (Stewart) expressed some concerns about it and some other drivers have some concerns, too, but I could've sworn I saw him (Stewart) have his bumper up against (J.J.) Yeley as they both went to the front at the same time (in the Bud Shootout). Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. put it the right way, we have to perform for our sponsors and perform for our teams."

He predicted his sponsors will be pleased when the No. 7 team reaches its 2006 goals.

"You have to set your goals high," Gordon said. "The Chase (for the NEXTEL Cup) is something we'd like to shoot for. We had good tests at Vegas and we ran well at Homestead and Phoenix at the end of last year, so I expect us to go to Victory Lane this year.

"We have the same crew chief with Greg Irwin, the same sponsors with Jim Beam, Harrah's and Menard's, and a good group of guys. I feel confident with the packages we have, and, knowing what I know from last year, we'll be much more competitive this year."

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~ Kentucky Speedway ~