Gordon holds off Wallace by .441 of a second at Dover With eighth win of year, he takes points lead

September 16, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DOVER, Del. -- Jeff Gordon hears a lot of stories as he roams the Winston Cup garage area: "It's always, boy, David Pearson did this! Richard Petty did that!" said Gordon yesterday as the sun was setting at Dover Downs International Speedway.

"One day, you'd like to think someone is going to say, 'Hey, Gordon did this!' "

After winning the MBNA 500 by .441 of a second over Rusty Wallace before an estimated crowd of 109,000, Gordon doesn't have to worry much about that.

The victory, his eighth of the season in his Rick Hendrick-owned Chevrolet, is No. 17 in 118 starts. Terry Labonte, the former champion and the man he replaced as the Winston Cup points leader yesterday, needed 518 starts to win that many.

The $153,630 Gordon won by averaging 105.646 mph gives him a season-leading $2,112,608. His five-year career total, $9,010,927, is nearly $2 million more than Petty won in 1,185 races over 34 years.

Yesterday, Gordon joined the famed Pearson and former Winston Cup champion Wallace as the only drivers to win three straight races at Dover Downs.

"Those are the kinds of things that keep you humble," Gordon said, when all the numbers were mentioned. "Sometimes you lose focus on the numbers. I mean, I don't think about how many wins or the amount of money I won. I don't know how much money I won today, and it's not what I'll be happy about when I think about this race tomorrow.

"The excitement comes from beating all these other guys and getting the prize because I know how much everyone else wants it."

For a while yesterday, it seemed that Gordon might not get this prize. He started the race strong, but on lap 125 he fell back to 16th in the field because the concrete track surface changed and he couldn't find the groove he'd been running here for the past year and a half.

"The car got really, really tight," Gordon said. "And for some reason, at the same time, the track seemed to be going through a lot of changes, too. It was really strange. The groove started working up high, and a lot of rubber accumulated down low. My car wouldn't work low, in its normal groove. It just didn't stick down there anymore, and I was searching around for a place to run. A lot of other guys were, too."

A new set of tires on the next pit stop solved the problem, and a good pit stop overall got Gordon back in front.

From there, he was the one in charge most of the day, leading 203 laps. But all around him, nerves were rubbing raw.

Ernie Irvan believed Derrike Cope had run him into the gravel and cost him the lead and the race on lap 199, as he crashed into the wall. It so aggravated Irvan's usually mild-mannered crew chief, Larry McReynolds, that McReynolds sought out Cope after the race.

They weren't the only ones to get into it. Wally Dallenbach and Jimmy Spencer had to be separated after an incident on lap 456. And after the checkered flag fell, Kyle Petty stopped to have it out with Michael Waltrip, who he believed had rear-ended him on the last lap, as they competed for eighth and ninth places.

Gordon hardly noticed, as he concentrated on holding Wallace at bay during the final restart with four laps to go.

1. (3) 24, Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 500, $153,630, 105.646 mph. 2. (6) 2, Rusty Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $54,580. 3. (9) 88, Dale Jarrett, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $40,880. 4. (1) 18, Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 500, $50,390. 5. (8) 6, Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $48,820. 6. (2) 1, Rick Mast, Pontiac Grand Prix, 500, $33,740. 7. (33) 22, Ward Burton, Pontiac Grand Prix, 500, $35,490. 8. (24) 42, Kyle Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 500, $29,890. 9. (23) 21, Michael Waltrip, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $28,740. 10. (40) 43, Bobby Hamilton, Pontiac Grand Prix, 500, $33,190.

11. (5) 7, Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $31,090. 12. (34) 77, Bobby Hillin, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $19,890. 13. (21) 9, Lake Speed, Ford Thunderbird, 499, $26,490. 14. (10) 98, John Andretti, Ford Thunderbird, 498, $19,090. 15. (36) 37, Jeremy Mayfield, Ford Thunderbird, 498, $26,890. 16. (20) 3, Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 498, $31,515. 17. (26) 4, Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 498, $31,515. 18. (13) 75, Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 498, $18,100. 19. (16) 31, Mike Skinner, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 498, $14,215. 20. (18) 81, Kenny Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 498, $15,965.

21. (4) 5, Terry Labonte, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 496, $30,515. 22. (12) 25, Ken Schrader, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 496, $24,765. 23. (7) 90, Dick Trickle, Ford Thunderbird, 495, $17,615. 24. (30) 30, Johnny Benson, Pontiac Grand Prix, 492, $25,465. 25. (35) 87, Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 490, crash, $24,490. 26. (38) 71, Dave Marcis, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 490, $17,140. 27. (37) 11, Brett Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 486, $23,990. 28. (27) 94, Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 483, $23,840. 29. (25) 15, Wally Dallenbach, Ford Thunderbird, 483, $23,690. 30. (39) 23, Jimmy Spencer, Ford Thunderbird, 472, $23,640.

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