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The Callahan Report: Gordon returns to championship form with win at Dover

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
June 4, 2001

Jeff Gordon
DOVER, DE: Jeff Gordon returned to championship form Sunday. The three-time Winston Cup Champion dominated the field at the MBNA 400 race at Dover Downs "Monster Mile". Gordon led all but 19 laps in the 400 lap showdown. He gained valuable points on Winston Cup leader Dale Jarrett, who finished in fifth place. Jarrett was driving with cracked ribs from an accident in Charlotte last weekend.

Fellow Hoosier and rival Tony Stewart was favored heading into the event after winning the past two races on the Dover concrete. He was trying to match Gordon's performance in the mid 90's of capturing wins at Dover three straight times. Stewart was never a factor as Gordon won for the fourth time at Dover. It was his 54th career victory.

Gordon's Dover win puts him in elite company for conquering the tough track. Ricky Rudd and Bill Elliott are also four time winners on the high banks in Delaware's state capital. Bobby Allison and Richard Petty won at Dover seven times each before retiring. Gordon won at Dover three straight times (once in 1995 and a sweep of both races in 1996.)

"We just had such a great car that wanted to be out front and stay out front," said Gordon. "That's the best car I've ever had here because I could go out and I could lead even when the tires were down - when typically we'd be spinning out. The car just stayed with me over the long haul."

The win tied Gordon with Rusty Wallace in the total wins column. Both are eighth on the all time win list. Fittingly, it was Wallace who gave Gordon his only challenge during the race. Wallace passed Gordon once before the thirtieth lap but Gordon returned the favor on the next lap. It was the last lead change on the track.

Jeff Gordon pulled to within 50 points of the Winston Cup lead. Gordon and Dale Jarrett are re-living their recent memorable battles for the championship. Jarrett, the 1999 Winston Cup champion, admitted his medical problems hindered his performance Sunday.

"I'm worn out, but Jeff wore us all out," said Jarrett. "Our car was probably a little better than the driver today."

Jarrett faded quickly after the green flag dropped. The field lined up according to points. Qualifying for the MBNA 400 was rained out, but the racing conditions on Sunday were ideal. The fact that Gordon has been so successful at Dover helped him on the "green" racing surface.

Gordon's pit crew matched his performance on the track. Gordon spent only 14 seconds in the pits on his last stop for fuel and tires. Had it not been for the final quick stop, Gordon may have finished second to a hard charging Steve Park who found speed late in the race.

"Jeff was just driving the wheels off the thing, and so was I trying to catch him," said Park, who was shooting for his third win in stock car racing's top series.

Park's teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., crossed the finish line in third place. Dale Jr. spun the red No. 8 car coming off of the fourth turn on lap 178. Whether he was really lucky or really good, the car straightened from its wicked slide and Dale Jr. was able to continue without hitting anything or being hit by another car.

"I think this car seemed to run a little bit better after I spun it out," said Earnhardt. "We just made some adjustments. It was really, really loose. We tried to fix it and tried to fix it and finally I lost control of the car down the front straightaway. After that, we came in and did a lot of things to tighten it up and it got hooked up."

Gordon, Park and Earnhardt Jr. all drive Chevrolet Monte Carlos. Ricky Craven, in a Ford Taurus, finished in fourth place.

The race was slowed five times and 31 laps. The average speed for the winner was just over 120 mph. Eight drivers swapped the lead 16 times, but Gordon was clearly the class of the field in the $3.6 million event.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.