It's all Martin at Dover Gordon takes 2nd

Veteran leads 380 laps of 400 in taking Gold

September 21, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DOVER, Del. -- David Pearson once won a race by seven laps here at Dover Downs International Speedway, and Richard Petty once won one by six. But in those days, not everyone had the best equipment or even decent tires.

"Back then," said Mark Martin, referring to the 1980s, when winning by a lap or more was not uncommon, "some had hand-me-down everything. They were just scrapping together what they could to make the field."

Yesterday, Martin dominated the thoroughly sophisticated Winston Cup circuit while winning the MBNA Gold 400.

From start to finish, he was never challenged.

He led for a record 380 of the race's 400 laps.

He was never passed for the lead, and only the usual reshuffle during pitstops conspired to allow Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace and Bobby Hamilton to keep him from leading every lap.

"This is the nicest car I've ever driven," Martin told his team in a quiet voice as he took his victory lap.

Once out of the car, he added: "Now I kind of know how Jeff Gordon feels on most Sundays. When you've got 'em covered, you've got 'em covered."

Martin, who more than once has experienced the feelings Gordon is feeling today as a second-place finisher, had 'em covered, all right. He won by 2.036 seconds over Gordon, while averaging 113.834 mph on the 400-mile trip that took 3 hours 30 minutes 50 seconds.

Jeremy Mayfield finished a distant third, followed by Bobby Labonte and Wallace.

Martin also won from the pole position, which allowed him to collect the 76 Challenge bonus for accomplishing the pole/win double and brought his winnings for the day to $126,130.

"I've got to hand it to Mark," said Gordon. "They pretty much had us whupped all day. My car didn't get running good until the end."

Last year in this race, it was Gordon who dominated. But, like so often happens at Dover, the dominating car didn't win. With nine laps to go, Gordon was forced to pit for gas and thrust Martin into the lead.

That was Martin's first victory on this one-mile oval in 22 races over 13 years. Now, he has two wins here in back-to-back seasons. And this time, it wasn't anyone else's bad luck that made the difference.

"But if my car hadn't been hooked up," said Martin, who earned his career-high sixth victory of the season, "Jeff would have won again. They were running good at the end and they threw everything they had at us."

Gordon, who has 10 victories this year, and Martin are in a race for the drivers' championship. Gordon leads by 194 points, which means Martin cut just 10 points from his lead with this win.

For a time yesterday, it looked as if Gordon might lose more than the 10 points.

The yellow caution flag was flying when the leaders pitted on lap 246, and when they all came back on the track, Gordon was running third. But moments later, NASCAR officials showed him the black flag, demanding he return to the pits, and officials told crew chief Ray Evernham he was being penalized because the crew had "pulled his fenders out" beyond the tire width on the stop.

The scene in the pits when Gordon came in was like watching a silent-film slapstick routine. The NASCAR inspector moved around to the right front of the car and pointed. Evernham looked, measured, saw nothing wrong and began flapping his arms as if he'd fly away. Finally, the inspector motioned Gordon to go.

"The fender isn't out past that tire," Evernham radioed Gordon.

"Are we getting our spot back?" Gordon asked.

"No," fumed Evernham, as he directed Gordon to ninth place, a position that made him the last car on the lead lap.

"Come on, NASCAR, what is the deal?" Gordon wailed. "My gosh, I haven't even been close to those guys up front today and they're picking on us."

Evernham said he has "never, ever seen anybody pulled in because of pulling a fender out," and was further outraged because nothing was found amiss when the car came in.

After the race, Gordon was more diplomatic.

"We'll have to talk to NASCAR and find out what the judgment was," he said. "We didn't move any fenders. But it doesn't matter. We didn't beat 'em today. We didn't have the car to beat 'em."

Pub Date: 9/21/98

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