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Gordon, Rudd face off today

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Jeff Gordon doesn't enjoy talking about the championship chase.

The three-time Winston Cup champion would much rather let the drama play out on the racetrack. Still, with only nine races to go and a 210-point lead over Ricky Rudd, the questions are inevitable.

"I know everybody wants to talk about it, but I'd rather not, if I had the choice," said Gordon, who will start on the outside of the front row today in the inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway.

"Let's just get it on and go racing," Gordon said.

Gordon, whose last title came in 1998, knows the pitfalls ahead. One slip, one mistake and that big points lead can be history.

After finishing second to Ward Burton on Sept. 2 in the Southern 500, Gordon held a 342-point lead over Rudd and nearly everyone was ready to hand over the championship trophy to the Rainbow Warrior.

The next week, Rudd won in Richmond, Va., while Gordon got into an early-race wreck with Sterling Marlin and wound up 36th — just 222 points in front.

Last Sunday in Dover, Del., Gordon qualified a disappointing 23rd and barely avoided disaster several times early in the race — caving in a fender in a collision with Ricky Craven and narrowly missing a multi-car crash later in the day.

He also had a slow pit stop because of a dropped lugnut but somehow hung on and finished fourth — just one spot behind Rudd. That shaved 15 more points off Gordon's lead.

U.S. GRAND PRIX: A bad brake cost Ralf Schumacher a chance to beat out his older brother for the pole position in the U.S. Grand Prix.

Michael Schumacher, who already has clinched his fourth Formula One championship, covered the 2.6-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway course in 1 minute, 11.708 seconds in qualifying on Saturday. Ralf's quickest lap speed, 1:11.986, was good for third Saturday, behind his brother and Mika Hakkinen at 1:11.945.