Gordon counting every point

Friday, September 24th 2004, 9:04 am
By: News On 6

DOVER, Del. (AP) _ With four drivers separated by just 10 points in the Nextel Cup standings, Jeff Gordon knows the best way to win the championship is to be obsessed with gaining even the slightest advantage.

He wants to qualify well, get a favorable pit stall and lead as many laps as possible. Those factors are always a key to success, but they seem even more important under the new system that reset the top 10 cars just 45 points apart for the final 10 races of the season.

But attention to detail is nothing new for the four-time NASCAR champion. So, he says Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway actually begins with qualifying Friday, when he'll try to extend his series lead in poles with a seventh.

``The obvious advantage is less traffic to deal with and track position,'' Gordon said. ``Because pit lane is so narrow and small at Dover, it seems we fight harder for track position.''

Gordon has made great use of that. The key to maintaining it is getting in and out of the pits quickly.

The outcome of qualifying determines the selection order of pit stalls.

``That's a big advantage,'' said four-time Dover winner Gordon. ``You can choose one that has an opening either in front of it or behind it.''

But the MBNA America 400 will be about much more than a top starting stop and a faster time on and off pit road. Gordon has a series-best 130 bonus points because he has led so often this season.

``Every weekend, if I have the opportunity to lead a lap, then I lead a lap,'' he said. ``If I can lead the most laps, I try to lead the most laps. If I can win the race, I try to win the race.

``I don't know how you can approach it any differently.''

Kurt Busch, the co-leader of the championship, would like to lead the last lap _ something he's never done on The Monster Mile.

That's a surprise, because no driver is any better at Bristol Motor Speedway, the only other high-banked concrete oval on the NASCAR circuit. Busch has three victories in his last four starts on the half-mile at Bristol, but is winless in eight races at Dover.

``Our success at Bristol hasn't translated,'' said Busch, who did win a truck race here four years ago. That came two days before his debut in NASCAR's top series.

``We qualified well at 10th place, and went on to finish 18th, so it was a solid way to kick off our Cup series efforts,'' Busch said.

With five subsequent top-10 finishes, Busch has been competitive here. But he has not come close to winning.

If he does, Busch will have a second straight victory in just the second race of NASCAR's inaugural top-10 showdown.

Busch won last Sunday in New Hampshire, and came here tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the points lead with nine races remaining.

If Busch wants a lesson on how to win here, Roush Racing teammate Mark Martin provides the best example. No one on the circuit has won more races at Dover.

But the teammate concept isn't very strong this fall, because Martin also is part of the top-10. He's seventh in the standings as he continues the quest for his first championship in his 18th season.

Martin won here in June, getting his fourth Dover victory. He also has five second-place finishes on the track.

``Dover is a great race track, and it may even be my favorite,'' Martin said. ``There are six tracks of the nine left that we really feel like we should run strong at and Dover is the first of those.''

Gordon is third in the standings, a point in front of reigning series champion Matt Kenseth and nine behind Busch and Earnhardt, who's looking to win for the second time at Dover. Earnhardt knows he was lucky to finish third in June.

``We weren't very good,'' he said. ``But somehow we avoided all the wrecks.''