DOVER, Del. -- Jeff Gordon took another step toward the 1995 Winston Cup championship yesterday, winning the rain-delayed MBNA 500 before an overflow crowd at Dover Downs International Speedway.
It was the seventh victory of the season and ninth overall for the 23-year-old nicknamed WonderBoy on the NASCAR circuit.
Gordon, who drives for DuPont Monte Carlo, has finished in the top five 15 times in 25 starts this season and for 12 consecutive starts has been in the top 10. He has built a commanding lead in the points race.
With six events remaining in the series, he has accumulated 3,880 points, 309 more than his closest pursuer, Dale Earnhardt, who was fifth yesterday. The points champion receives $1.3 million. Gordon said he is not taking anything for granted.
"It seems like no number [of points] is big enough and there are quite a few races left.
"We're really just doing our best. Our main focus is to try to finish races and in the top 10. If we get a win, that's a bonus. Lately, things have been going our way."
Rainy conditions postponed the race for almost two hours, but once the running started Gordon was in command most of the day on the concrete surface dubbed the "Monster Mile."
He qualified second behind Rick Mast and was never worse than third at any of the 10-lap intervals in the race. Gordon had the lead for 400 of the 500 laps.
The most severe challenge came from second-place finisher Bobby Hamilton of Nashville, Tenn., in Richard Petty's STP Pontiac. Hamilton seized the lead just before the midway point, but Gordon overtook him in Lap 303 and was never seriously pushed again.
"He was just a little better right there at the end," said Hamilton, who enjoyed his best career finish after starting 32nd in the field of 40. "We're still learning that we can reach down a little deeper and come up with more.
Hamilton finished fifth the preceding week at the Miller Genuine Draft 400 at Richmond -- ahead of Gordon -- and said his confidence "just keeps getting bigger and bigger. We're going to get there one of these days."
Both drivers cited Gordon's ability to run higher on the track as the difference.
"We had to run on the bottom," said Hamilton. "We were quicker through the middle, but it hurt us coming off [the turn]. If I went up high, I pushed up there."
"The groove really seemed to be working up higher," said Gordon. "It made it easier to get around some cars and our car stuck real well.
"That thing [car] was just awesome today. There were times when it seemed to drive itself."
Mast led qualifiers with a speed of 153.446 miles per hour, but experienced mechanical problems from the start. "It ended up blowing up," he said after completing 439 laps to get 28th place. "We had trouble all race long. We only had rear brakes at the start and struggled through that. We got that fixed and were running pretty good. Then it blew up."
Defending champion Rusty Wallace, one of six drivers running in the lead lap at the end, gained third with what he labeled "a good run" in a backup car after a crash in Saturday's practice session.
Gordon said he had to finally win at Dover because "this is big DuPont country."
Earnhardt "hated to see Gordon win another one, but he's strong this year and he's got everything going his way."
Seven cars were forced out of the race via accidents, but only Dale Jarrett of Conover, N.C., required a hospital check. He was diagnosed with a fractured left rib at Kent General Hospital and was later released.