Sitting in 10th place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, Jeff Gordon is off to a decent start this season. However, the four-time Cup champion hasn't won yet, and acknowledged his No. 24 team does not have the Car of Tomorrow dialed in.

Referring to this week's testing at Pocono Raceway, which will feature the COT for the first time on June 8, Gordon told the Daily News yesterday, "I'll admit we're struggling. It was a real challenge for us at Pocono. It almost felt like I'd never been there before."

Gordon has raced 30 times at Pocono and won four 500-milers, so he is familiar with the 2.5-mile tri-oval.

"Nothing that we changed seemed to make it any better," he said. "We're going to totally regroup. We've got great information from our teammates. I think we'll be in pretty good shape when we go back there to race."

Gordon spoke in Wilmington at his annual NASCAR Day appearance for DuPont Co. employees. Before he signed autographs, the company announced a 2-year extension (through 2010) of its sponsorship of Gordon.

DuPont's bankrolling of Gordon's team is the longest-running sponsorship in NASCAR. This is their 16th year together.

The COT has affected the way Cup drivers race. With higher and wider cars, the idea is to require less downforce. Presumably, the cars will be more maneuverable.

"The way we race is changing," Gordon said. "Strategy and track position are taking it to a whole new level. While having the fastest car is always important, it's not how you get those good finishes or win races quite like it used to be."

Gordon was on his way to Dover, Del., for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway. Gordon, the leader in wins among active Cup drivers (81), has won four times at Dover.

Rising prices a concern

Like all track promoters, Dover's Denis McGlynn worries that the soaring gas prices will keep fans home.

According to McGlynn, 92 percent of the fans attending Dover's races are from out of state.

"When people don't have money to spend, it's hard for them to shell out [for races] when they're worried about getting to work or feeding their families," McGlynn, Dover's president and CEO, said recently. "The best news is, it's not going to be forever. We go through these cycles. Maybe we'll even come out the better for it, if it makes us all be leaner and more efficient."

Escalating gas prices also are causing headaches for the racing teams. Ty Norris, vice president and general manager of Michael Waltrip Racing, said fuel costs for MWR teams have increased $400,000 this year.

Truex back 'home'

Martin Truex Jr. couldn't wait to get to Dover this week. The New Jersey native regards Dover International Speedway as his home track. It's also the track where he gained his only Sprint Cup series victory, last spring.

"It doesn't seem like it's been a year since we won our first race," Truex said during testing at Pocono Raceway this week. "We've been close a few times since then, [but] it just hasn't worked out. This year has been kind of up and down."

Truex is 15th in the points standings. He was eighth after three races this season, but has only one top-five finish.

Philly youths at Dover

Craftsman, sponsor of NASCAR's truck racing series, is hosting about 80 students from Philadelphia's Urban Youth Racing School today at Dover, where they will see the AAA Insurance 200 truck race, starting at 5 p.m.

Craftsman has supported the UYRS since its inception 10 years ago. This summer, six UYRS students will intern for a week with truck teams in the Charlotte, N.C., area. *

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