Stewart Accepts Dover Challenge

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DOVER, Del. -– Some Winston Cup drivers have been coming to Dover Downs International Speedway for years, and they’re still trying to figure out the "The Monster Mile."

In less than two years, Tony Stewart has already mastered the ominous Delaware oval. Three starts, three top-four finishes for the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac, including a victory in the June MBNA Platinum 400. Move over, Jeff Gordon.

Stewart will be the odds-on-favorite this weekend in the MBNA Gold 400 at Dover Downs. Bud Pole Qualifying is scheduled for Friday for Sunday’s Winston Cup event.

Historically, Gordon has been successful at Dover, including three consecutive victories there in 1995-1996. He hasn’t won since then, however, and has given way to Stewart as the new prince of "The Monster Mile."

Stewart led 242 of 400 laps in blowing away the competition in the June event there.

"I was very surprised that we were as dominant as we were in that race," Stewart said. "I had a feeling we were going to be good when we got there just from the past runs we had the year before. But I don’t think we anticipated being as dominant as we were.

"The only way we can duplicate that performance this weekend is to try and keep up with the track conditions. Nothing else really changes. But that doesn’t mean you can get lazy. If you just assume you’re going to be good, then that’s when you’re going to get beat because guys are going to make changes and they’re going to come back with better cars than they left there with. So, we have to keep up and make that same gain they do in order for us to keep that advantage."

Home Depot Pontiac crew chief Greg Zipadelli said Stewart isn’t afraid to attack the Dover oval, citing that as a major factor for his success there.

"Dover is a track where the driver has to focus on the track and drive the track, and Tony’s not scared of it," Zipadelli said. "That’s one of those places where you kind of have to have no fear. We’ve been able to get good cars for him the three times we’ve been there. Tony just does really well at places that there is a challenge. Dover is a place that’s more of a challenge to the driver."

Gordon, who won two weeks ago at Richmond International Raceway, wants desperately to return to victory lane at Dover.

"We’ve had some great runs at Dover since 1996, but we just haven’t won," Gordon said. "We led 375 of 400 laps in the spring of 1998 but still finished third because we had to pit for gas with just a few laps remaining. I’d much rather lead only one lap –- as long as it’s the last one."

Bobby Labonte has enjoyed a fair amount of success at Dover, as well. The Winston Cup points leader won the spring race there last season, finished fifth in the fall and finished third in the spring race this past June.

Another run like that will strengthen Labonte’s chances to win the championship. Heading to Dover, with eight races left in the 2000 season, the driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac owns a 168-point advantage over Jeff Burton. Dale Jarrett is 174 points back in third place, while fourth-place Dale Earnhardt is 201 points behind.

Ricky Rudd is another driver making waves in recent weeks. Rudd has risen to sixth place in the Winston Cup standings and would like nothing better than to earn his first victory of the season at Dover -– a place where Rudd has parked his car in victory lane four times during his illustrious career.

Rudd is the only driver in the Top 10 in the points standings without a victory. He finished fifth at Dover in the MBNA Platinum 400 in June and is looking for his first victory since Martinsville in the fall of 1998, a span of nearly two years.

"I’ve had a lot of good runs at Dover," said the driver of the No. 28 Texaco-Havoline Ford. "We got a Top 5 there in June and had a shot to win with some pit strategy. We were pretty good then and have continued to get better each week.

"We have been close to victory many times this season. Lately, we’ve also been very competitive nearly everywhere we’ve been. I’ve had some great runs at Dover and maybe we can get a win there this weekend."

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