Patience is a sign of maturity, and on the race track it can be more important than speed.
At 24, Jeff Gordon is learning about that all the time, and used it as one of his weapons Sunday in winning the Miller 500."I wasn't screaming today," said Gordon, who admits he sometimes gets too excited when he gets behind in a race. "I was very patient."
While speed put Gordon in front at the start, the cool he exhibited in the middle stages of the event paved the way to victory at Dover Downs International Speedway.
Two days after he won the pole by going faster than any driver in the history of the Monster Mile, Gordon discovered his qualifying lap of 154.785 mph didn't mean much after an exchange of mid-race pit stops relegated him to 14th position. But he drove conservatively, and because of caution flags returned to contention.
"I went out there and just tried to keep the car clean and tried to get back up to the front," he said. "I just didn't want to get caught up in somebody else's wreck or cause a wreck by being too impatient."
After the day's fifth caution, brought by Dale Jarrett's spin on the backstretch with 138 of 500 laps remaining, the field began to sort itself out.
Gordon, who had battled with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Terry Labonte, Jarrett, Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan, soon established control.
He made it a rout in the last 100 laps, running lower on the high-banked concrete track than the rest of the contenders. It became obvious that only a late caution could restore the competitive nature of the event.
It never happened, and Gordon's pit stop on lap 444 was two seconds faster than that of Earnhardt. The stop cost Earnhardt second place, with Labonte moving ahead of him.
From there, it was simply a case of Gordon avoiding problems the rest of the way. He did just that, leading the last 129 laps, and 307 overall.
Earnhardt accepted his finish, but admitted he is becoming impatient.
"We did all we could, but it wasn't good enough to win today," said Earnhardt, winless since March 10. "That's another top five finish, and that's seven straight . . . but we need a win."
Chevrolets took the first three spots, a stark reversal from qualifying Friday. Although Gordon won the pole with a lap of 154.785, Fords took 16 of the top 25 positions to just five by the Chevys.
Irvan's Ford finished fourth, the only other car on the lead lap.
The victory was his fourth this season for the reigning Winston Cup champion and 13th of his career. It also was his second in just seven races at Dover, and left him 182 points behind series leader Earnhardt.
Gordon averaged 122.741 in a race slowed five times by cautions for 38 laps. There were 19 lead changes among six drivers.
He collected $138,730 from a $1.5 million purse, bringing his earnings this season to $972,502. His payoff for the race included a $38,000 bonus for Unocal for winning from the pole.
It also was the first time the race was won from the pole since David Pearson prevailed in 1975.
Gordon also extended his lead in 1996 victories on NASCAR's top circuit. No other driver has won more than twice. It was the eighth triumph for Chevrolet in 12 races this season.
The fourth caution came on the 339th lap when much the track had to be cleared of debris. It proved pivotal.
Although Earnhardt came out first, Gordon gained ground after being nearly a half lap down.
"That really helped," Gordon said of the caution. "We closed in on those guys."
Earnhardt regained the lead on lap 352, with Labonte, Jarrett, Gordon and Irvan in hot pursuit. But Jarrett spun and crashed on the backstretch 10 laps later.
With the race stripped of one of its best cars - another break for Gordon - a record crowd of 104,000 soon bore witness to his domination.
"He was certainly tough," Gordon said of Jarrett, a winner last week in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. "But you've got to be there at the end."
The crash dropped Jarrett to fourth in the points race, behind Earnhardt, Labonte and Gordon.
"This is the kind of day you don't need, for sure," said Jarrett, who explained that he spun after running through fluid on the track. "It was just unfortunate."
At West Allis, Wis., Michael Andretti, taking advantage of a late caution flag in Sunday's Miller 200, passed Al Unser Jr. on the restart and went on to his fifth victory at the Milwaukee Mile.
Andretti took advantage of a rule implemented the previous week at the U.S. 500, lining the cars up double file for restarts, with the cars in the lead lap in one line.
Rookie Mark Blundell brought out the third of five caution flags 12 laps from the end of the 200-lap race when he bounced off the second-turn wall.
Unser was in the lead when the five cars on the lead lap lined up for the restart. When the green flag waved for the start of lap 195, Andretti's Lola-Ford shot to the outside of the wide, flat oval and zoomed past Unser's Penske-Mercedes in the second turn.
A near spin by rookie Greg Moore, who was fifth, brought out the last caution flag on lap 196, but Unser was not able to take advantage of the last restart on lap 200, finishing about two car-lengths behind.
"I was a little bit surprised I was able to drive past Al like that," said Andretti, who now leads Unser in career victories 32-31. "I was just on it.
"I guess the new rule helped me," he added with a grin. "I was one of the ones complaining about it, but it helped me today."
Unser, a two-time Milwaukee winner, said, "The way we're running all our yellows these days, it wiped out all those lapped cars I put between us. I lost the race because of it, but it made a great show for the fans."
Asked why Andretti was seemingly able to drive past him so easily on the restart, Unser said, "I wasn't set up for a trophy dash. I was set up for long runs."
The victory was the fifth in the last six Milwaukee races for Newman-Haas Racing.
Paul Tracy, last year's winner and now Unser's Team Penske teammate, finished third, followed by Emerson Fittipaldi and Moore, who was able to keep his car from spinning and drove through pit lane on the last incident.
Tracy, who had a great view of the first-place battle, said, "Those restarts are a lot of fun. If you're leading, it takes away a lot of your advantage, but it gives everybody else a chance to strike.
"The fans were going nuts at the end. I could hear them over the sound of the cars."
Jimmy Vasser, who had won four of the first six races and came into Sunday's event with a 36-point lead over Unser in the PPG Indy Car World Series title chase, finished a quiet 10th and saw his lead cut to 22 points, 97-75.
Andretti, picking up his second win of the season - both on 1-mile ovals - now is third with 51 points.
The race began with Parker Johnstone spinning harmlessly on the first lap, bringing out the first caution flag. After that, it stayed green from lap six until Raul Boesel spun and backed in the wall in turn two on lap 134.
By that time, Unser, who had started 11th in the 28-car field, was holding a small lead over Andretti and the five cars that finished up front were already the only competitors on the lead lap.
Andretti beat Unser out of the pits when both pitted during the caution, but Unser was able to pass Andretti for the lead on lap 158, five laps after the green flag waved.
Unser built leads of as much as six seconds and was still ahead by 5.23 seconds just before Blundell tapped the wall.
The final caution flag came out as the lap lap was being run when Johnstone and Scott Pruett banged together and Pruett hit rookie Jeff Krosnoff. All three were able to drive on to the checkered flag.