Humpy Wheeler predicts the winner
by Pete McCole

May 19, 2004

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Pulling out his best Karnac impression yet, Lowe’s Motor Speedway President and general manager H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler made his annual prediction for the winner of the 2004 NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge on May 22.

Wheeler’s pick this year: three-time Nextel All-Star Challenge race winner Jeff Gordon.

“If ever there was a race that was made for a specific driver, it is the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge and Jeff Gordon,” Wheeler said. “He can drive a car smoothly with total reckless abandon. He can drive deep or deeper into a corner than anybody out there.”

Wheeler has correctly picked the winner of the event nine times in the last 15 races, including last year’s winner, Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

“How do I predict the winner? I’m not sure,” Wheeler said. “One thing I do is I pay attention to how they run on the mile-and-a-half tracks. I look at how they test. I also look at other factors – there’s a lot of psychological factors about this race that people don’t realize.”

If Wheeler is correct, Gordon would become the first driver to win the event four times.

“My record here is not as good as Humpy’s is at picking the winner,” Gordon said. “I feel privileged you picked us this year.  I think we’re having a great year, and hopefully we’re going to make you a winner along with us.”

Gordon’s last win in the all-star race was in 2002, when Gordon was one of several drivers who crashed on the opening lap after rain began to fall just as the green flag fell and ended up taking a back-up car to victory lane.

“I’ve had a lot of spectacular things happen to me in the all-star event”, Gordon said. “This race is always exciting, it’s always brought out the best in the race teams and the drivers.”

Every year that Gordon has won the all-star event, he’s also gone on to win the championship, putting added incentive on winning this year’s event.

“I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence that it’s worked out that way, but if you can run well here, you usually run well at most places,” Gordon said. “I hope if we do win (the all-star race), that it means something for the championship, but the way the points are this season it’s hard to predict no matter how great your season is going, and what races you’re winning, if you’re going to win that championship.”

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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