Gordon Shows Speed, Patience in Dover Victory
DOVER, Del. (AP) _ Patience is a sign of maturity, and on the race track it can be more important than speed.
At 24, Jeff Gordon is learning about that all the time, and used it as one of his weapons Sunday in winning the Miller 500.
``I wasn’t screaming today,″ said Gordon, who admits he sometimes gets too excited when he gets behind in a race. ``I was very patient.″
While speed put Gordon in front at the start, the cool he exhibited in the middle stages of the event paved the way to victory at Dover Downs International Speedway.
Two days after he won the pole by going faster than any driver in the history of the Monster Mile, Gordon discovered his qualifying lap of 154.785 mph didn’t mean much after an exchange of mid-race pit stops relegated him to 14th position. But he drove conservatively, and because of caution flags returned to contention.
``I went out there and just tried to keep the car clean and tried to get back up to the front,″ he said. ``I just didn’t want to get caught up in somebody else’s wreck or cause a wreck by being too impatient.″
After the day’s fifth caution, brought by Dale Jarrett’s spin on the backstretch with 138 of 500 laps remaining, the field began to sort itself out.
Gordon, who had battled with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Terry Labonte, Jarrett, Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan, soon established control.
He made it a rout in the last 100 laps, running lower on the high-banked concrete track than the rest of the contenders. It became obvious that only a late caution could restore the competitive nature of the event.
It never happened, and Gordon’s pit stop on lap 444 was two seconds faster than that of Earnhardt. The stop cost Earnhardt second place, with Labonte moving ahead of him.
From there, it was simply a case of Gordon avoiding problems the rest of the way. He did just that, leading the last 129 laps, and 307 overall.
Earnhardt accepted his finish, but admitted he is becoming impatient.
``We did all we could, but it wasn’t good enough to win today,″ said Earnhardt, winless since March 10. ``That’s another top five finish, and that’s seven straight . . . but we need a win.″
Chevrolets took the first three spots, a stark reversal from qualifying Friday. Although Gordon won the pole with a lap of 154.785, Fords took 16 of the top 25 positions to just five by the Chevys.
Irvan’s Ford finished fourth, the only other car on the lead lap.
The victory was his fourth this season for the reigning Winston Cup champion and 13th of his career. It also was his second in just seven races at Dover, and left him 182 points behind series leader Earnhardt.
Gordon averaged 122.741 in a race slowed five times by cautions for 38 laps. There were 19 lead changes among six drivers.
He collected $138,730 from a $1.5 million purse, bringing his earnings this season to $972,502. His payoff for the race included a $38,000 bonus for Unocal for winning from the pole.
It also was the first time the race was won from the pole since David Pearson prevailed in 1975.
Gordon also extended his lead in 1996 victories on NASCAR’s top circuit. No other driver has won more than twice. It was the eighth triumph for Chevrolet in 12 races this season.
The fourth caution came on the 339th lap when much the track had to be cleared of debris. It proved pivotal.
Although Earnhardt came out first, Gordon gained ground after being nearly a half lap down.
``That really helped,″ Gordon said of the caution. ``We closed in on those guys.″
Earnhardt regained the lead on lap 352, with Labonte, Jarrett, Gordon and Irvan in hot pursuit. But Jarrett spun and crashed on the backstretch 10 laps later.
With the race stripped of one of its best cars _ another break for Gordon _ a record crowd of 104,000 soon bore witness to his domination.
``He was certainly tough,″ Gordon said of Jarrett, a winner last week in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. ``But you’ve got to be there at the end.″
The crash dropped Jarrett to fourth in the points race, behind Earnhardt, Labonte and Gordon.
``This is the kind of day you don’t need, for sure,″ said Jarrett, who explained that he spun after running through fluid on the track. ``It was just unfortunate.″