The Callahan Report: Martin May have the Edge on Gordon at Dover
17 September 1998
By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
Mark Martin, who is having the best Winston Cup season of his storied career, was the winner of the fall race last year. He started from the pole on the way to his checkered flag run. The Roush Racing Team keeps good notes. You can expect the Valvoline Taurus to be quick . . . right off the truck. Add to the mix the fact that Martin has never been a quitter. He will continue his quest for his first ever Winston Cup title till the bitter end. Martin should be considered the favorite this weekend at Dover.
Martin's nemesis and two time Winston Cup champion, Jeff Gordon, will be in the thick of the battle, just as he has been at every racing venue this season. With a handful of races left on the 1998 Winston Cup schedule, Gordon will be up front but not taking "unnecessary" chances to go for the win. He has settled into the mode of accepting consistent "top-five" finishes. This was evident last weekend at Richmond. Gordon had caught eventual winner, Jeff Burton with five laps remaining in the race. Gordon made attempts to pass, but was very careful not to "trade paint" with Burton in the final laps. Such a move could have ended his (and Burton's) day, sending Gordon plummeting in the points race. Expect Gordon to be a challenger for the win this weekend, but if the Rainbow Warrior pit crew has not given him the best of cars, he will be thrilled with a top-five finish.
Jeff Burton is coming off a win at Richmond. It was the second of the year for the young star from South Boston, Virginia and the fifth of his career. He is teamed with Martin. The two drivers have great communication skills. Nothing is held back between the team prior to the races. When the green flag drops, Martin and Burton become enemies. With the good performance history of the Roush Team at Dover, Burton should be a threat to post his third win of the 98 season.
Ricky Rudd has won at least one race a year for the past 15 racing seasons. Rudd is running out of time if he wants to keep his yearly win streak alive. Dover could be his best opportunity for Rudd to break into victory lane in 98. Rudd is a solid performer when he visits the concrete track knows as the "Monster Mile". Rudd won the Spring race in 1997. He also won the Fall race in 1992, 1987, and 1986. He charged from 16th to a sixth place finish last fall. Rudd is one of the few masters in the first state's Capital City. Look for Rudd to have the Tide colors in front of most competitors Sunday. He may be in front of all of them.
Running third in the Winston Cup points is Dale Jarrett. Victory has been eluding the Hickory, North Carolina native much of the season. While Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin have been leading the way, Jarrett has been in the shadows. Dover is a place where Jarrett's red, white, and blue Ford Quality Care Taurus may wave its colors. Jarrett usually performs well at Dover. He came home in fifth place after starting third a year ago. Sooner or later, Martin and Gordon will have a bad race. If it happens Sunday, Jarrett will be poised to drive into victory lane.
There is always room for a couple of darkhorses. Kyle Petty is tired of being a "middle-of-the- pack" race driver. Dover is a place where fuel mileage is a key factor. The Hot Wheels Team has been good at conserving fuel this year. Petty could surprise folks dropping by the track Sunday to watch the Gordon/Martin battle. Based on Petty's 23rd to 3rd place run a year ago at Dover, he could be the surprise of the season with a win at Dover.
Continuing on the darkhorse pony ride, don't forget about Dale Earnhardt. He has always been good on "new" tracks. Dover has been on the NASCAR Winston Cup schedule for years, but the track surface will be new to the drivers. Since the teams visited in the Spring, the track has been "ground-down" so the Indy Racing League (IRL) could run a race in mid Summer. The concrete surface at the Monster Mile was simply to jarring for the delicate open wheel racers. The new surface will be like having a new racing venue. Earnhardt is one of the best at figuring out the fast way around on a new track. If he can qualify well and dodge the many crashes which will surely occur, Earnhardt could find himself in victory lane for the second time in 1998.
The MBNA Gold 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race will start at 12:00 (E.T.) Sunday. Live television coverage will be provided by TNN Motorsports.
Callahan's Picks, 1998 MBNA Gold 400
1. Mark Martin
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Jeff Burton
4. Ricky Rudd
5. Dale Jarrett
1. Kyle Petty
2. Dale Earnhardt
Agree or disagree?? Send email to Terry Callahan, The Auto Channel.