Another Dover win eases Martin's pain

`Desperate,' he takes MBNA Gold 400

September 27, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DOVER, Del. -- Mark Martin likes Dover Downs International Speedway. Others might look at it as a Monster Mile, but from the first time Martin came here as a rookie 17 years ago, he has loved it.

And yesterday, it soothed his weary body and erased the mask of worry that had clouded his face.

When he climbed out of his rapid Ford race car in victory lane, Martin's arms shot into the air and the smile was like the sunlight that bathed the scene in its warmth.

"I can't tell you how bad I wanted to win this race," he said after winning the Winston Cup MBNA Gold 400 for the third straight time.

"I didn't even care about the [Winston Cup] points. I just wanted to win this race for my team. I was really feeling desperate to win. I needed to win so bad."

It had been nearly eight months since he won at Rockingham in late February. In that time, he had seen an uncle and a close friend die, adding to the pain he still feels from the loss of his father in a plane crash last year. On top of that, Martin has struggled with serious rib, hand and knee injuries suffered in an accident at the Pepsi 400 in Daytona Beach, Fla., in July.

And there are two deteriorating discs in his lower back that give him little peace.

"They've actually taken away some of my manhood," said Martin, who will have the discs fused Nov. 22, the day after the Winston Cup season ends in Atlanta. "I can't grab up a piece of furniture and move it when I want to. I can't even get down on the floor and wrestle with my son.

"But I can still drive a race car. As long as I can get a win once in a while, that makes life worth it to me."

Martin, 40, averaged 127.434 mph to hold off a hard-charging Tony Stewart and win by 1.1 seconds. Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett finished third, followed by Matt Kenseth, in only his fourth Winston Cup race, and Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton, the only other drivers on the lead lap.

Jeff Gordon, whose team has been surrounded by rumors concerning the possible departure of crew chief Ray Evernham, finished 17th, three laps down.

"There's no doubt [the rumors] are there," Gordon said. "And the whole thing that has made us championship caliber is the chemistry, everybody working together, everybody excited about the next race.

"Once we get all this behind us, that chemistry is going to come back, and we'll be just fine, but, yeah, it's been a little bit of a distraction."

As happy as Martin was to win, that's how unhappy Stewart was to finish second. Jarrett, the stoic in the group, was pleased to come home third after starting 26th.

"That's one more down," said Jarrett, who is trying to win his first Winston Cup title.

"We're counting them off. I know Mark gained a little on us today, but we just have to keep having days like this. If we just keep doing our job -- not to sound cocky or overconfident -- but if we do our job, we should be all right."

Jarrett, who is now 257 points ahead of Martin, said he believes the Stewart team owned by Joe Gibbs "is probably the best team out there right now." But Stewart, a rookie who won in Richmond, Va., two weeks ago and was runner-up last weekend in Loudon, N.H., was red-hot when he got out of his Pontiac.

"I've hardly had any complaints about Goodyear tires," said Stewart, who rallied from two laps down to challenge for the victory. "But today, they were very inconsistent. After the third stop for tires, I was almost wrecked every lap.

"We never knew one set to the next what we were going to have, so you were afraid to adjust the car. It was frustrating. We didn't know what to do."

Martin said he knew halfway through the race that he had a car capable of winning. When a caution flag wiped out his 5.5-second lead and bunched his competition for a six-car shootout with 47 laps to go, Martin said he knew what to do. He put his foot down.

"My team kept its chin up through all the losing," Martin said. "They never treated me any different and they never let it affect the way they worked on the car. To win for them is real special.

"This is what I live for, to win races like this, and they've made it possible."

Results

1. (8) Mark Martin, Ford, 400, $115,710.

2. (3) Tony Stewart, Pontiac, 400, $88,875.

3. (26) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 400, $74,935.

4. (13) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 400, $51,160.

5. (20) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 400, $56,285.

6. (28) Jeff Burton, Ford, 400, $55,815.

7. (22) Chad Little, Ford, 399, $47,990.

8. (37) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 399, $52,065.

9. (10) Steve Park, Chevrolet, 399, $42,915.

10. (12) Kenny Irwin, Ford, 399, $50,905.

11. (17) Ward Burton, Pontiac, 399, $46,765.

12. (16) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 398, $44,865.

13. (21) Kevin Lepage, Ford, 398, $40,065.

14. (18) Jimmy Spencer, Ford, 398, $42,070.

15. (39) W. Dallenbach Jr., Chevy, 397, $40,800.

16. (2) Jerry Nadeau, Pontiac, 397, $39,050.

17. (7) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 397, $49,940.

18. (24) Johnny Benson, Ford, 397, $39,090.

19. (35) Michael Waltrip, Chevrolet, 397, $40,995.

20. (29) Kyle Petty, Pontiac, 396, $33,035.

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