Earnhardt wins Atlanta race

Sometimes it takes a veteran - a driver fans either love or love to hate - to bring back the nostalgia and emotion that is NASCAR Winston Cup Series stock car racing.

Earnhardt wins Atlanta race

Dale Earnhardt, the most successful driver at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a total of eigth wins, added another notch to his record today in the single-most exciting race to date in this young 2000 season and received high praise from Richard Childress Racing teammate, Mike Skinner.

Bobby Labonte and Earnhardt battled, side by side, nose to tail in the final ten laps.

In the end, it was the black #3 taking the checkers, by a literal half-inch - his first win at the 1.54-mile high banked speedway since March 1996.

The crowd in the stands were on their feet, hands in the air, cheering - and the same scenario was most likely found in front of television sets around the country - went wild and the racing that made NASCAR famous was back.

Labonte had been patient while Mike Skinner dominated the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 most of the afternoon, waiting for that one chance to get out front.

He got that chance with just under 90 laps remaining when Skinner slowed just enough.

With ten to go, Labonte's patience was again demanded to try and take the lead from Earnhardt.

He made a low pass, but Earnhardt stuck with him, and next time by the seven-time champion recaptured the point on the outside.

Skinner, who led the most laps - 191 - in the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500, put a block on Earnhardt with over 100 circuits to go.

The Intimidator fell back to10th after a pit stop to pull the right front fender out, which was damaged following contact with Skinner's rear bumper.

Later, when Earnhardt was in front, he assured Childress that if Skinner could get by, he wouldn't block.

Skinner was leading on the restart with 25 to go as Earnhardt moved into the second spot, past Bobby Labonte, when the engine simply shut down bringing out Caution #10 for oil on the track.

"Pow. No warning whatsoever. I ran the Lowe's Chevy just as hard as it would go all day long," said a disappointed Skinner after he climbed from the car.

"You were fixing to see an 85-foot wide bumper around that track for the next 20 laps or so."

Mark Martin, Steve Park, Joe Nemechek, Chad Little, Todd Bodine, the last car on the lead lap, Ward Burton, Jeff Gordon and Georgia's-own Bill Elliott rounded out the top-10.

With around 50 to go, Tony Stewart got into the marbles off Turn 4 and the rear of the Home Depot Pontiac broke loose and kicked to the right.

Stewart tried to save it, to no avail, hitting the outside wall head-on just before the tri-oval.

Most of the traffic behind managed to miss the spinning Stewart, but Robert Pressley nailed the right side as Stewart was nearly stopped.

Pressley had no other line choice because to his right was Stacy Compton - backwards - and Rusty Wallace coming together and spinning and a record 9th caution waved.

The cars were diverted down pit road as cleanup crews hurriedly worked to get the race back to green.

Stewart was slow moving around inside the car, but eventually climbed out and took the free ride to the infield care centre to be checked out.

Stewart was kept under observation due to a hard knock on his head and a decision to release him was to be decided later.

Polesitter Dale Jarrett had a bad day.

Jarrett led the first seven circuits before yielding to rookie Matt Kenseth, who later retired from the race with engine failure.

Jarrett started to backslide as the lead was swapped by Kevin Lepage, rookie Dale Earnhardt Jr Jerry Nadeau and Ted Musgrave.

Jarrett eventually had to park the #88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Taurus before race end with mechanical failure.

Jarrett's Ford suffered extensive damage during an incident in the pits under the first caution brought out by Dale Earnhardt Jr just before the 30 lap down mark.

As Jarrett was leaving his stall, Stacy Compton was trying to enter his and Jarrett made contact with the #9 Melling Ford, which put Compton nose-first to the pit wall.

"We had a Monday on Sunday," said Jarrett after the car let out a billow of smoke in the last quarter of the event.

"One of those bad days. Something finally happened in the engine department."

Earnhardt Jr also must have felt it was a "Monday."

After his contact with the wall knocked out his brakes, it took 3 circuits to get slowed enough to pit.

Earnhardt lost some 15 laps and his hopes of running for his first series win in just nine Winston Cup Series starts screeched to an immediate halt.

The race had 18 leaders swapping the point over 30 times, a new track record.

The pace was slowed by 10 cautions during the 3 hours and nearly 50 minutes it took to complete the 325 laps which make up 500 miles.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series now heads to Darlington Raceway for the fifth event on the 34-race schedule.

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