``Robby took a substantial pay cut to take this ride. Two or three IndyCar team owners took Robby aside and tried to talk him out of coming to NASCAR, but he'd made up his mind,'' Sabates said.
Despite winning twice last season, the 27-year-old Gordon never quite fulfilled his promise during a five-year run on the IndyCar circuit. Gordon has struggled this season, his third with Walker Racing, and is tied for 19th in the PPG Cup driver standings.
SHORT CIRCUIT. The NASCAR Winston Cup tour goes under the lights tonight on the steep-banked turns of a Tennessee track billed as the ``world's fastest half-mile speedway.''
Bristol International Raceway, where migraines and lead changes go hand-in-hand, is the site of the Goody's Headache Powders 500 (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.).
Last year's winner, Terry Labonte, crossed the finish line with a crumpled front end courtesy of an Earnhardt nudge into the fourth-turn wall on the final lap.
Labonte, who holds a 134-point lead in the driver standings, placed second to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon at Bristol in March and has finished among the top five in five of his last 13 races there.
Earnhardt has finished no worse than third in his last four races at Bristol. Despite suffering through a nightmarish season, Darrell Waltrip has won a dozen races and has three consecutive top-five finishes at Bristol.
Rusty Wallace, another contender in what should be a wide-open field, is a short-track expert and has won four of the last six Saturday night events.
ROUGH START. There were four caution periods in the first 20 laps of Sunday's PPG IndyCar World Series race in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Al Unser Jr. made it through the bumper-car portion of the Texaco-Havoline 200 and led half of the 50-lap race until his Mercedes-Benz engine blew on the last lap. Unser's best bid for his first win this season went up in a puff of smoke, leaving him a lap down in 10th place.
Michael Andretti gave his Kmart/Texaco-Havoline sponsors a thrill by breaking through for his fourth win of the season and tightened up the points race with two events remaining on the 1996 schedule.
By taking sixth, Jimmy Vasser remained on target for his first PPG Cup title and extended his lead to 21 points over Unser. Alex Zanardi finished third and gained ground, moving within six points of Unser. Andretti, in fourth, trails Vasser by 29 points.
The IndyCar circuit shifts to Canadian soil on Sept. 1 for the Molson Indy Vancouver.
TOUGH SELL. In its continuing quest for acceptance by the nation's motorsports fans, the Indy Racing League ventured into New England for the first time last Sunday and came up a clunker.
New Hampshire International Speedway was a sea of gleaming, mostly empty steel benches, with an announced crowd of 24,000 rattling around in the 70,000-seat grandstand.
The Loudon, N.H., track has been a hotbed for stock-car fanatics. The area's lone 1996 Winston Cup event sold out well in advance, and another NASCAR race has been added for next season.
The IRL race itself was anticlimactic. Tony Stewart led 165 of the 200 laps, but his Team Menard machine experienced electrical problems during a fuel stop with 18 miles to go, relegating him to a 12th-place finish.
The mishap opened the door for Scott Sharp, who pulled away to a 20.4-second victory in the IRL's 1996-97 season opener. Buzz Calkins, co-champion with Sharp in the abbreviated first season, finished second.
The IRL will venture into more uncharted waters with its next scheduled event, the Sept. 15 unveiling of the new track outside Las Vegas.
CLOSE CALL. Michael Schumacher escaped injury yesterday when he spun out and slammed into a stack of tires during a practice run for tomorrow's Belgian Grand Prix in Brussels. Schumacher, the current world champion who won the race last year, walked away from the wreck with only a bruised knee, but sat out the afternoon practice session.
``I made a mistake and lost control,'' he said.