Mark Martin set a track record by leading 380 of 400 laps at Dover Downs International Speedway, backing up a record qualifying lap with a shockingly easy victory Sunday in the MBNA Gold 400.
But the 29th win of his career did little to help Martin close the gap in the Winston Cup standings because leader Jeff Gordon finished second. Gordon leads Martin by 194 points with only seven of 33 races remaining.Martin was realistic about his prospects.
"We can win them all, and at this rate we won't be able to catch them," he said after winning by 2.036 seconds. "But this was the best car I ever drove,"
Martin had not beaten Gordon in their four previous 1-2 finishes this year, making the victory particularly sweet.
"Now I know how Jeff feels," he said.
At one point, it looked like Gordon would make a contest out of it. He halved the lead with about 30 laps remaining, but didn't negotiate lapped traffic as well and fell back.
"That was the best our car was all day, but it wasn't enough," he said. "They had the car to beat."
For that, Martin credited crew chief Jimmy Fennig and chasis man Shawn Parker.
"We hardly did anything to the car all weekend," Martin said.
Their work and his effort legitimized the defending race champion's NASCAR track record qualifying run two days earlier at 155.996 mph.
Martin established a career high with his sixth victory of the season. Gordon had held the mark for leading the most laps at The Monster Mile when he led for 375 in a losing effort May 31.
So dominant was Martin in the $1.6 million event Sunday that few even got close enough to attempt passes after Rusty Wallace got by him on the second lap. Martin went back in front on lap 4, and began his domination.
It was his second career victory on the high-banked concrete oval where his breakthrough a year ago ended an 0-for-22 Dover drought.
Martin, like Gordon, had a chance to win in the spring, but was forced to make a late gas stop. Dale Jarrett won the race by going the final 101 laps without a stop.
Gordon, trying to become the only driver in the modern era of the sport to win 31 races within three seasons, led only six laps Sunday, He did so after beating Martin off pit road after a caution on lap 173.
But Martin passed him on lap 180, two laps after the green flag came out. Then the 39-year-old from Batesville, Ark., drove away from the field.
IRL Lone Star 500
FORT WORTH, Texas - John Paul Jr. stayed out of trouble on an attrition-filled day and came away with his first win in 15 years Sunday in the inaugural Indy Racing League Lone Star 500.
The 38-year-old driver gave up track position when he made a strategic pit stop on lap 163 of the 208-lap event at Texas Motor Speedway. But he steadily moved toward the front as other drivers who had stayed on the track had to pit for fuel.
Paul took the lead on lap 191 and held off a late challenge from rookie Robby Unser, crossing the finish line about 10 car-lengths (1.577 seconds) ahead. It was the first win for Paul since he took the 1983 Michigan 500 in the rival CART series.
"It's been a long 15 years," said an emotional Paul, who spent 28 months in a federal prison from 1986-88 after pleading guilty to a charge of racketeering for the unloading of a boat containing marijuana and helping in preparations to use the boat to haul marijuana from Colombia to Louisiana.
People who knew Paul placed the blame on his father, John Paul Sr., a two-time world endurance driving champion currently serving a 25-year term for drug trafficking and attempted murder of a witness in a federal drug case.