Earnhardt Jr. wins at Richmond

The betting money was on Dale Earnhardt Jr to show well in his rookie Winston Cup race at Richmond, but few thought he would be the

Earnhardt Jr. wins at Richmond

season's first double-winner. 'Little E' held off a tenacious Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett in the final 30 laps to win the Pontiac Excitement 400 - only the third rookie ever to win two races in his debutante season. Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace rounded out the top five in a race with more personalities than NASCAR has had winners this year.
The late Davey Allison and Tony Stewart are the only other rookies with such entries in the record books, and Stewart is no doubt a little unhappy how it came to be. He was the late-race car to beat until the pair collided
exiting pit road. Stewart had to pit again for a flat tire and despite a charge from deep in the field, finished in eighth position.

"I feel real bad about that," said an exhausted Earnhardt in Victory Lane, but he didn't leave me a lot of room."

Team-mate and points leader Bobby Labonte fared worse, collected in two crashes and finishing 26th. He leaves this three-quarter mile short track with just a three-point lead over Ward Burton and 33 ahead of Mark Martin, who failed to finish after blowing a tyre.

Rusty Wallace simply owned the first half of the race, leading 187 laps after starting from the pole. A six-time winner here, the former champion gave up the lead briefly after the second of a pair of early cautions.
Jeremy Mayfield's Week From Hell put him on the outside-wall end of three-wide racing on lap 7. His Ford hit turn one as Jimmy Spencer tapped Joe Nemechek who tapped the Mobil 1 car. Todd Bodine would cut a tyre on
lap 43 and everyone but Elliot Sadler took the opportunity to get new tyres.

Despite dominance at the front, this was a race hotly contested everywhere.

Wallace took the green flag on lap 54 and found himself with a mirror-full of Mike Skinner, who managed to lead lap 111. The sold-out raceway, meanwhile, was treated to Geoff Bodine's near-miraculous return to racing after a horrifying truck crash at Daytona in February. The elder member of
the racing family ran in the top five until the third caution was thrown for an off by Robbie Gordon. Bodine pitted before NASCAR opened th pit road, a move that sent him back to 31st place. Brother Todd replaced him at the wheel during a short caution on lap 172.

Lurking his way to the front from the 31st starting position, Dale Earnhardt Sr muscled his way to sixth after a hundred laps and fourth by the halfway mark. Earnhardt, team-mate Mike Skinner and Bobby Labonte ran
three-wide for an entire lap before the points leader lost control and spun
on the front stretch. Unhappy with his Chevrolet's handling, Earnhardt joined Labonte in pitting out of sequence with the field on lap 262. The rest of the field pitted for tyres during a caution 11 laps later, and so it was the seven-time champion lead the race on lap 276. Earnhardt would
finish tenth.

A mix of backmarkers and traffic made for tight racing and much shuffling, as Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte pressured for the front. Labonte had the lead on lap 300, but Tony Stewart was on a mission. He took the point and was driving away from everyone when Skinner spun a cloud of smoke into the
backstretch wall on lap 316. This time everyone pitted and Ward Burton was first out, a position he held for a dozen laps until Stewart soared to the front with Dale Earnhardt Jr on his rear bumper.

The Saturday Night Fights were breaking out right behind them. Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett began exchanging bumps after close racing. As Jarrett appeared to be delivering a left fender to Gordon, Bobby Labonte was nudged into the wall and forced to pit for repairs under green. Moments later, Martin slammed the wall on lap 361 when his right front tyre blew out, retiring him to the garage. As the lead cars pitted and rejoined the track, Earnhardt Jr clipped Stewart's Pontiac and cut the leader's rear tyre. Stewart pitted again, falling out of the top ten.

Dad Earnhardt took the green on lap 369 after a two-tyre stop, a position he barely held a lap, after Son Earnhardt bumped him and passed for the lead - one he would never give up. With 15 to go, Terry Labonte was in pursuit with Jarrett, Rudd and a resurgent Wallace in tow. With 10 to go, Jarrett
threatened to join the feud and Stewart was motoring past 8th. Labonte's charge was relentless, literally on Earnhardt's bumper for the final two laps, but he ran out of time and space to pass and a most unlikely driver became the first double-winning driver of the season after 11 races.


Pos # Driver Sponsor Make Laps
1 8 D. Earnhardt Jr Budweiser Chev 400
2 5 Terry Labonte Kellogg's Chev 400
3 88 Dale Jarrett Quality Care Ford 400
4 28 Ricky Rudd Texaco/Havoline Ford 400
5 2 Rusty Wallace Miller Lite Ford 400
6 22 Ward Burton Caterpillar Pont 400
7 99 Jeff Burton Exide Batteries Ford 400
8 20 Tony Stewart Home Depot Pont 400
9 94 Bill Elliott McDonald's Ford 400
10 3 Dale Earnhardt GM Goodwrench Chev 400
11 1 Steve Park Pennzoil Chev 400
12 36 Ken Schrader M&M's Pont 400
13 60 Geoffrey Bodine Power Team Chev 400
14 24 Jeff Gordon DuPont Chev 400
15 17 Matt Kenseth DeWalt Tools Ford 400
16 75 W. Dallenbach Cartoon Network Ford 400
17 26 Jimmy Spencer Big Kmart Ford 400
18 43 John Andretti STP/Cheerios Pont 400
19 7 Michael Waltrip NationsRent Chev 400
20 55 Kenny Wallace Square D Chev 400
21 16 Kevin Lepage FamilyClick.com Ford 400
22 9 Stacy Compton Kodiak Ford 400
23 33 Joe Nemechek Oakwood Homes Chev 399
24 21 Elliott Sadler Citgo Ford 398
25 10 Johnny Benson Lycos Pont 398
26 18 Bobby Labonte Interstate Pont 396
27 32 Scott Pruett Tide Ford 392
28 44 Kyle Petty Hot Wheels Pont 390
29 40 Sterling Marlin Coors Light Chev 389
30 25 Jerry Nadeau Michael Holigan Chev 389
31 4 Bobby Hamilton Kodak Film Chev 372
32 6 Mark Martin Valvoline Ford 362
33 31 Mike Skinner Lowe's Chev 354
34 93 Dave Blaney Amoco Pont 339
35 77 Robert Pressley Jasper Ford 327
36 12 Jeremy Mayfield Mobil 1 Ford 323
37 13 Robby Gordon Menards Ford 282
38 11 Brett Bodine Ralph's Ford 280
39 97 Chad Little John Deere Ford 273
40 50 Ricky Craven Midwest Trans. Chev 239
41 27 Mike Bliss Viagra Pont 170
42 42 Kenny Irwin BellSouth Chev 170
43 91 Todd Bodine KMC Telecom Chev 42

TIME OF RACE: 3 hr 1 min 34 sec
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.159 second
CAUTION FLAGS: 9 cautions for 59 laps
LEAD CHANGES: 23 lead changes among 10 drivers

1. Bobby Labonte; 2. Ward Burton; 3. Mark Martin; 4. Jeff Burton; 5. Dale

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