With the 2019 season serving as the 50th anniversary of Richard Childress Racing, we plan to dip into the archives to present the stories of iconic moments, race wins, championships and much more as part of our weekly Throwback Thursday series.
The NASCAR season’s first road course race of the 2019 season takes place this weekend as Austin Dillon, Daniel Hemric and the rest of the Cup Series head to Sonoma Raceway for 90 laps around the hilly course in California’s wine country.
Richard Childress Racing has always had success on road courses, with Ricky Rudd delivering the team’s first win at Riverside International Raceway in 1983. In all, RCR has earned five Cup Series wins on road courses and two at Sonoma.
During the 2003 season, Robby Gordon was behind the wheel of the No. 31 RCR Chevrolet full time, with crew chief Kevin Hamlin calling the shots. As they reached the 16th event of the year, the No. 31 team were having an up-and-down season. Coming off a sixth-place finish to start the year in Daytona, they only score one additional top-five and two top-10 finishes in the first half the season.
However, everyone knew that when the series rolled around to the road course at Sonoma Raceway Gordon and the No. 31 RCR team would be a serious threat for the win.
When the FOX analysts made their picks for the race win at the start of the day, Darrell Waltrip was the only one to choose Robby Gordon to take the checkered flag. Gordon started second and before the race went green DW talked with the RCR driver
“I think the whole deal will come down to not making any mistakes,” Gordon said from inside the No. 31 Chevrolet. “Not making any mistakes on the racetrack and not making any mistakes on pit lane. We know what strategy we’re going to use … and I think we’ll be on pace.”
Gordon was suffering from food poisoning heading into the day, and the team kept him hydrated leading into the grueling 110-lap race.
After pressuring pole sitter Boris Said on the opening lap, Gordon put the No. 31 Chevrolet in the lead on the second lap of the race. His teammate Kevin Harvick wasted no time moving his No. 29 Chevrolet into second, putting RCR 1-2 early in the race.
Gordon gave up the lead as green flag pit stops got underway after 30 laps, but after the stops cycled through it was Gordon that was back in the lead with Harvick, Ron Fellows and Jeff Gordon hot on his back bumper.
With just over 50 laps to go in the race, Harvick made a move to the inside of Gordon for the lead going into the hairpin Turn 11. However, Fellows seized the opportunity and drove under both RCR cars to take the top spot and shuffling Gordon back to third.
With 45 laps to go, the RCR teammates hit pit road under green for the final time of the afternoon. The two had a drag race off pit road, with Harvick keeping the No. 29 Chevrolet ahead of Gordon’s No. 31 Chevy.
When the caution flew for a spin by Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 43, Gordon was able to take advantage of a slower car and move by Harvick while racing back to the yellow flag. As the majority of the field hit pit road under caution, Gordon lined up fifth for the restart with Harvick on his back bumper.
Coming to 30 laps to go, Gordon made his signature move under race leader Johnny Benson going into Turn 11 to regain the lead for the final time.
Gordon did not have a simple drive to Victory Lane, however, as he had to deal with the other Gordon – the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet. With 17 laps to go, he also radioed to the crew to tell them he felt as if a tire was going down, but the No. 31 Chevrolet remained out front lap after lap after the competition was hungry on his tail.
In the end, nobody had what it took to get past Gordon and his No. 31 RCR Chevrolet. Leading 81 of the 110 laps, Gordon earned his second-career NASCAR Cup Series win. It was also RCR’s first Cup Series win in 33 races, dating back to Harvick’s win at Chicagoland Speedway in July 2002.
“The car was pretty good at the end,” Gordon said in Victory Lane. “I was pacing myself off of Jeff (Gordon). I didn’t want him to get close enough to me in Turn 11 to turn me, because I remember what happened at Loudon (in 2001) and I know he owes me one. I kind of pace our race off him.
“This was a big race for us. To win here means a lot. We let this race slip away about four times in the past. We stuck to a plan and it worked good all day,” said Gordon.
RCR kept up the strength on the road courses just six races later, as Gordon and the No. 31 team returned to Victory Lane at Watkins Glen International in August to sweep the season’s road course races.