DOVER, Del. -- The bad days look to be a thing of the past for Jeff Gordon, and that's not good news for his NASCAR rivals.
After two seasons of mediocrity that followed the last of his three Winston Cup championships, Gordon again is a threat to win virtually any race on the schedule. As he demonstrated Sunday, he has rediscovered the touch that made him a dominant driver.
"Hopefully, this is a sign of some great things to come," Gordon said after leading 381 of 400 laps while winning the MBNA Platinum 400.
Still, Gordon is at a loss to explain exactly why he lost his edge. But he's glad to be back near the top.
"The guys are working just as hard and I'm driving just as hard," he said. "The setups aren't that much different, but they're working."
That hadn't been the case from the middle of the 1999 season until early this year. There were rare glimpses of The Kid, but until recently Gordon was unable to sustain them, unable to regain his standing as one of the greatest stock car drivers ever.
"We were consistently running 10th or 15th," he said. "But that's no way to win a championship."
There was no threat of Gordon finishing that far back in the field Sunday, although he gave it some thought.
"I was thinking it would be a real shame to lead that many laps and lose it at the end," he said after holding off Steve Park for the victory. "I just didn't want to get caught up in a fuel-mileage deal."
That has happened twice to Gordon at Dover Downs International Speedway, most recently in 1999, when he led 375 of 400 laps then was forced to go in for gas and watch helplessly as Bobby Labonte drove to victory.
"It doesn't matter how great you are all day long," Gordon said. "The only lap that counts is the last one."
The victory ended Tony Stewart's bid for three straight wins on the track.
"I don't ever remember dominating like this," Gordon said. "Stewart had been so dominant the last few races here, I didn't know if anybody could touch him."
It was the second victory this season and the 54th overall for Gordon, tying him with Rusty Wallace and Lee Petty for seventh-best in NASCAR history. It also was the fourth win for Gordon on one of NASCAR's most difficult tracks.
Crew chief Robbie Loomis was in awe.
"He's a crew chief within himself," said Loomis, in his second season with Gordon. "Hendrick Motorsports gives us great cars, but Jeff Gordon's the icing on the cake."
But Gordon said it wasn't as easy as it seemed.
"I know it might have looked like the car was on a rail, but there's no easy way around Dover," he said. "If you listened to the scanner, it might have sounded like I was complaining."
The victory ties him with Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd for the most by an active driver at The Monster Mile, where Bobby Allison and Richard Petty won seven times each.
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