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MARTIN LOOKS TO TAME THE 'MONSTER MILE'

Mark Martin hopes the improved racing surface hasn't taken too much of the bite out of the Monster Mile.

"It'll make it easier for everybody," said Martin, who has the pole for today's MBNA Gold 400 (12:30 p.m., TNN; Radio 1340). "I don't know if that'll make it easier for me, because maybe everybody won't have as tough a time."

Tough racing always has been the order of business at Dover Downs International Speedway, generally considered one of the three most difficult tracks on the Winston Cup circuit. But some new business -- an Indy Racing League event -- necessitated a smoother track.

So, after the stock cars raced on May 31, rough spots in the concrete surface were milled out to accommodate the more sensitive open-wheel machines.

"It's fairly dramatic going into one and three." Martin said of the transitions to the high-banked turns. "They've made significant improvements."

But those changes might make passing easier, taking a bit of the edge away from defending race champion Martin and some of the other front runners.

"This place is a challenge, and it may take some of the challenge out of it," Martin said of the improvements. "That's probably good."

Martin will need an excellent finish and at least a minor disaster by series leader Jeff Gordon to close the gap in the points race. Gordon, seeking his third series championship in four years, holds a 204-point lead.

Gordon has one of his favorite cars.

"This is the same car we ran in Darlington," said Gordon, who earned his 10th victory of the year two weeks ago at the Southern 500. "We'd be crazy to bring something different unless it got better fuel mileage."

Rusty Wallace, like Gordon a three-time Dover winner, joins Martin in an All-Ford front row for the $1.6 million race.

On Saturday, Matt Kenseth tuned up for his first Winston Cup start by leading 158 of 200 laps and holding off determined rookie Kevin Grubb to win the MBNA Gold 200. The victory enabled Kenseth to pick up 43 points on Busch series leader Dale Earnhardt Jr., who now has a 97-point lead after 26 of 31 races. Earnhardt, who won at Dover Downs May 30 and got his sixth victory last weekend at Richmond, Va., finished eighth.

Boat after smooth sailing

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Billy Boat has made a habit of visiting Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway.

He has been there in each of the first two Pep Boys Indy Racing League events at TMS, although only one is listed in the victory column of his resume.

At the inaugural Pep Boys Indy Racing League event on the 1 1/2 -mile oval, last year, Boat was celebrating what he and his A.J. Foyt Racing team thought was a victory when Arie Luyendyk interrupted the fun.

Luyendyk, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, showed up to complain about the scoring, saying he was the winner. Foyt, known as much for his temper as for the driving skill, took offense at the intrusion and slapped Luyendyk, knocking him to the ground.

IRL officials spent the night auditing the scoring, Luyendyk was declared the winner and Foyt later was hit with a $25,000 fine.

By the time the IRL returned to race on the 1 1/2 -mile Texas oval in June, Foyt and Luyendyk had made up, but Boat was still winless. That ended when he passed Greg Ray with seven laps left and took the checkered flag.

That one stood.

"Now it's time to win again," said Boat, who heads into today's 500-kilometer (312-mile) race (4 p.m., Ch. 7) having little to show for the five races since that victory.

Stefanski King of Hill

Pete Stefanski took the 100-lap King of the Hill Pro Stock race at Ransomville Speedway Saturday night. It was his seventh win of the season.

Adam Ferri won the Street Stock main after Daryl Ebersole was disqualified. Dave Nashwinter won the Sportsman non-winners feature.

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