NASCAR Winston Cup Series MBNA 400 Report
24 September 1997DOVER, DE -- They call Dover Downs the Monster Mile. This is due, in part, to the track's voracious appetite for race cars. It also refers to the grueling punishment the drivers must endure as they circle the 1.0-mile high-banked concrete circuit at break neck speeds. But the Monster, perhaps a bit disillusioned by a scheduled 100 mile reduction in circuits to be completed, left the drivers alone and the September 21st running of the MBNA 400 came down to, of all things - a fuel mileage battle. It was the pole sitter Mark Martin that was able to tame the 'Monster' in a fuel run.
The driver of the Valvoline Ford wins in a fuel mileage run? In the car that always seems to be the first on pit road looking for a drink? That Mark Martin?
Yes, that'd be the man.
"Jack Roush (car owner) said that this year he would win a race on fuel mileage, and he did it today," said Martin. "We had a good car. We had everybody covered on the race track, except for Kyle (Petty), and he had us beat bad. But Jack took care of him."
Petty, driving the freshman PE2 / Hot Wheels Pontiac entry, did have the field covered. He could out maneuver the field almost at will. His line, that had his two left tires on the edge of the apron, was good enough to put all but four other drivers down a lap. This included the normally dominant Jeff Gordon, who finished seventh - two laps down to the leaders.
But the price for Petty was fuel and on lap 379 a pit stop became a necessity. When Petty rolled off the track it was Martin sitting there ready to lead the remaining circuits.
Martin, who was able to make the race on three stops total, said that it took months of planning to get himself in the position to win a fuel run. "We started thinking about fuel mileage six or eight months ago. It all started back early in the season for Jack. They finally figured how to make it go a long way on gas and make good horsepower and not run it so lean that it hurts the engine. That combination doesn't come easy."
The team was well-rewarded for their fuelish efforts as they received a $114,000 bonus from UNOCAL for winning the race from the pole.
The 'Man in Black', Dale Earnhardt, was back to form as he brought the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet home in the second spot. A smiling Dale Earnhardt said, "It's not a win but it's a lot better than we've been doing lately."
The cantankerous Earnhardt, poking fun at himself and the 'incident' at Darlington, added "It was a great race AND I remember every lap of it."
Petty, after his stop, was able to fight his way back to third place when the checkers fell. "We had the dominant car today," exclaimed Petty. "Even though we didn't win (the race) we did show just how good this team is. One of our goals, as a new team, was to run in the top-five. We did that today."
Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett rounded out the top-five spots.
Jeff Burton, who was recovering from an inner ear problem, took his car, which Todd Bodine qualified for him, from it's 39th starting position to an 11th-place finish. "We really put him under the gun worse than we really wanted to," commented Buddy Parrott - crew chief for Burton's Exide Batteries Ford. "But Jeff came out and drove his tail off , like he usually does, and got us an 11th-place finish. We came up here not knowing if Jeff would even drive so we're really happy with a finish like this."
Jeff Gordon remains in the points lead but Martin was able to shave off a few markers, making the points race a bit closer as the season winds down. Martin commenting on his championship chances said, "The 24 car is going to be hard to catch unless they have trouble. Maybe they will have one more problem and it will equal out."
Mike Snow -- The Auto Channel