Gordon rolls out of pits, wins Miller 15th after caution stop, he rallies at Dover

June 03, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DOVER, Del. -- Jeff Gordon dominated the Miller 500 Winston Cup stock car race yesterday, leading 307 laps, including the final 129. But it didn't feel like domination to Gordon and his crew chief, Ray Evernham.

In fact, it didn't feel that way at all, as a pit stop on Lap 196 dropped their Chevrolet to 15th, and forced them to prove how good they really were.

"When we were behind cars, I was screaming on the radio," said Gordon, the defending Winston Cup champion. "Well, not screaming. I've screamed before, and I know I didn't today. But I was persistent. I was just trying to relay back to Ray what the car was doing and it wasn't doing what I wanted it to -- so I had to talk a whole lot."

But, eventually, Gordon made his way back and pulled away for a 3.90-second victory over Terry Labonte's Chevrolet.

It is Gordon's second straight victory at Dover Downs International Speedway and came in front of a track-record 104,000 race fans.

The win was Gordon's 13th and his fourth this season. It marked the first time in 21 years that a driver had started from the pole in this race and gone on to win. David Pearson did it in 1975.

After Gordon and Labonte, Winston Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt was the next to cross the finish line. His third-place performance stretched his points lead to 136, now over Labonte.

Gordon moved up to third in the standings, and Dale Jarrett, who had been second, slipped to fourth, 215 points behind, when a spin on the backstretch doomed him to a 36th-place finish. He was running third on Lap 361 at the time.

The only other driver on the lead lap, Ernie Irvan finished fourth and is 15th in points.

Gordon's car ran like "a rocket" when it was leading, but deep in traffic, the car seemed to grip the track too well in the front and not well enough in the back.

"And it's nerve-racking," Gordon said, "because the only way to pass somebody back there is to get up really tight, right on a guy's rear bumper, to get him a little loose. . . . You need a lot of patience back there. I'd rather be out front. Fortunately, Ray was on the headphones to help."

Evernham felt compelled. On Lap 196, when a caution came out after a brief 10-lap run under green, he told Gordon to pit for new tires. Earnhardt, Irvan and Labonte, who were running behind him, maneuvered as if to follow into the pits. But when Gordon pitted, they stayed on the track.

"I looked in my mirror and none of them was there," said Gordon. "I thought I'd made a big mistake and pit lane was closed."

But pit lane wasn't closed. The competition had simply decided to flush Gordon from the lead.

"They'll do anything to get you out of the way," said Evernham. "I thought I'd blown it. I spent the next two hours thinking that was going to cost us the race. I thought how many times I'd made bold moves and people said I was a genius and how I wasn't going to be a genius today."

But then came a caution flag and a pit stop on Lap 372. Gordon's crew got him out ahead of the field.

"That pit stop saved us," said Gordon. "We were back in front, and as you saw, once we got back to the front, we just pulled away."

NOTES: Gordon won $138,730, including the $38,000 Unical Bonus for winning from the pole. . . . No one was injured, but Buddy Parrott, the crew chief on the ninth-place car of Jeff Burton, was taken to hospital with chest pain. He was stable but still being evaluated last night. . . . Darrell Waltrip, who started 41st, finished 39th. "The car felt like a dirt car, sliding through the corners," he said. "I couldn't drive it. I had to guide it -- I thought I was riding on top of a basketball."

1. (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevy Monte Carlo, 500, $138,730, 122.741 mph; 2. (4) Terry Labonte, Chevy MC, 500, $57,480; 3. (14) Dale Earnhardt, Chevy MC, 500, $60,080; 4. (21) Ernie Irvan, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $42,440; 5. (7) Bobby Labonte, Chevy MC, 499, $42,295; 6. (24) Jimmy Spencer, Ford T'bird, 499, $37,215; 7. (8) Rusty Wallace, Ford T'bird, 499, $33,365; 8. (16) Ricky Rudd, Ford T'bird, 499, $32,765; 9. (18) Jeff Burton, Ford T'bird, 499, $22,115; 10. (31) Ken Schrader, Chevy MC, 499, $32,465.

11. (27) Michael Waltrip, Ford T'bird, 498, $27,365; 12. (39) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford T'bird, 497, $19,765; 13. (20) Ted Musgrave, Ford T'bird, 497, $26,365; 14. (29) Ricky Craven, Chevy MC, 497, $25,965; 15. (33) Todd Bodine, Ford T'bird, 496, $26,765; 16. (3) Ward Burton, Pontiac Grand Prix, 496, $29,490; 17. (23) Johnny Benson, Pontiac GP, 496, $26,065; 18. (15) Kyle Petty, Pontiac GP, 496, $24,850; 19. (28) Mike Wallace, Ford T'bird, 495, $17,665; 20. (9) Kenny Wallace, Ford T'bird, 495, $19,315.

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