Labonte wins at Brickyard after flying late pit stop

Under darkening skies after 160 laps, Bobby Labonte took the chequered flag in a canyon of 325,000 spectators to win the seventh Brickyard 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race

Labonte wins at Brickyard after flying late pit stop

Labonte won on the strength of a very quick late-race pit stop, and after passing Rusty Wallace, who dominated much of the race, he then went on to set the largest margin of victory in the event's history - some 4.23 seconds. He did it at a record average speed of 155.918 mph.

Bill Elliott, Jerry Nadeau and Tony Stewart rounded out the top five.

"I tell you what, I can't think of a better day here," said Labonte, the normally temperate Pontiac driver. "The crew did a great job in the pits... My brother (Terry) missed this race, but he'll be back... This is one of those races that you dream about. I've dreamed about it for a long time. Tony Stewart will make sure I kiss those Hoosier bricks."

The big story before the start of the race was the absence of Terry Labonte and Jeremy Mayfield. Both were sidelined on doctor's advice after suffering from concussion; Mayfield from an accident in practice on Friday and Labonte at Daytona in July.

Labonte's record streak of 655 consecutive starts came to an end but remains safe until 2001, when Dale Earnhardt could surpass the mark. Kyle Petty, who failed to qualify, drove for Mayfield, while Todd Bodine subbed for Labonte.

The result changed the shape of championship with Labonte gaining a handful of points over Dale Jarrett who has 87 and Dale Earnhardt on 145.

The Brickyard 400, majestic and emotional on its own merits, was all the more so because of an absence. Kenny Irwin Jr, killed on the track in New Hampshire, would have turned 31 this day. Indianapolis was his home town and in an unprecedented gesture the race was officially dedicated to Irwin's memory.

It was fitting that a car Irwin piloted in his short Winston Cup career - the number 28 of Ricky Rudd - started from pole position alongside retiring NASCAR veteran Darrell Waltrip.

Perhaps as a testimony to the level of competition - or to the way the cautions flew - every car on the track was on the lead lap with a quarter of the race run. This mandated single file restarts and made tyre strategy and pit stops an important factor.

The first caution came on lap 15 when Mark Martin was punted hard into turn one by Mike Skinner. "I had Skinner as a drafting friend and I checked up in turn one," said Martin. "Mike didn't expect it and we wrecked big!"

Rick Mast was turned sideways by two-time winner Jeff Gordon trying to avoid the incident. Gordon sustained front-end damage and found himself deep into the pack after lengthy repairs.

Rusty Wallace was leading when the racing resumed, after taking just two tyres to gain track position. Earnhardt used the same cycle to make six different chassis changes to alleviate a push, and after a long pit stop he found the setup to threaten the top 10 for the remainder of the race.

The cars at the front were Wallace, Bill Elliott, Stewart, Jeff Burton, Jarrett and Earnhardt, Rudd, Earnhardt, Jr and Labonte.

The yellow flag waved a second time on lap 43 when John Andretti shot into the north short chute wall after his right front tyre failed. His car came to rest on the grass and provoked another pit cycle. Wallace was first off pit road again and soon had a comfortable lead on Jerry Nadeau and Rudd.

The first green flag pit stops came at the race's midpoint 80 laps in, and Wallace continued his dominance. He towed Labonte, Nadeau, Elliott and Rudd, followed by Stewart, Burton, Jarrett and the Earnhardts.

The uninterrupted pace by lap 100 reduced the number of lead lap cars to 30, including the slowed Gordon. Few positions were contested as the field continued to lap anticipating the next and possibly final round of fuel stops.

As Wallace moved towards netting the five championship points for most laps led, the pack slowed in an attempt to preserve the engines for the final, critical laps. The leaders took turns pitting as the gas window opened with 40 laps to go and a whole new race began.

Under rain-darkening skies and propelled by an unbelievable sub-14 second pit stop, Labonte raced Wallace side-by-side for the lead. Wallace prevailed.

With 25 laps to go, the top 10 was comprised of Wallace, Labonte, Elliott, Nadeau, Stewart, Burton, Rudd, Jarrett, Earnhardt and Skinner. Each lapped within a second of the other, but nearly 100 laps of caution-free racing spread out the field around the 2.5 mile circuit. Only Labonte was in striking distance of Wallace for the win.

Labonte's agression increased with 14 laps to go, tapping Wallace on the backstretch and motoring past him for the lead. He immediately pulled out a a two-second lead in just seven laps and motored on as Rudd and several other cars ran out of fuel.

While Labonte's team mate Stewart swayed his car across the track to help fuel pickup, Labonte took the chequered flag and Wallace could only watch as another victory slipped from his grasp.

"I was just a little too tight when the clouds moved in," said a dejected Wallace later. "I almost won this in 1994 and '95 and it's kind of hard to smile when you finish second after a day like today."

Pos Driver No Car Pts Laps Status
1 Bobby Labonte 18 Pontiac Grand Prix 180 160 Running
2 Rusty Wallace 2 Ford Taurus 180 160 Running
3 Bill Elliott 94 Ford Taurus 165 60 Running
4 Jerry Nadeau 25 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 165 160 Running
5 Tony Stewart 20 Pontiac Grand Prix 155 160 Running
6 Jeff Burton 99 Ford Taurus 150 160 Running
7 Dale Jarrett 88 Ford Taurus 146 160 Running
8 Dale Earnhardt 3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 142 160 Running
9 Mike Skinner 31 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 138 160 Running
10 Scott Pruett 32 Ford Taurus 134 160 Running
11 Darrell Waltrip 66 Ford Taurus 130 160 Running
12 Geoffrey Bodine 60 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 127 160 Running
13 Dale Earnhardt Jr 8 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 124 160 Running
14 Hut Stricklin 90 Ford Taurus 121 160 Running
15 Todd Bodine 5 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 118 159 Running
16 Steve Park 1 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 115 159 Running
17 Jimmy Spencer 26 Ford Taurus 112 159 Running
18 Joe Nemechek 33 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 109 159 Running
19 Chad Little 97 Ford Taurus 106 159 Running
20 Michael Waltrip 7 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 103 159 Running
21 Ricky Rudd 28 Ford Taurus 105 159 Running
22 Ken Schrader 36 Pontiac Grand Prix 97 159 Running
23 Dave Blaney 93 Pontiac Grand Prix 94 159 Running
24 Ted Musgrave 01 Chev Monte Carlo 91 159 Running
25 Johnny Benson 10 Pontiac Grand Prix 88 159 Running
26 Matt Kenseth 17 Ford Taurus 85 159 Running
27 Robert Pressley 77 Ford Taurus 82 159 Running
28 Ward Burton 22 Pontiac Grand Prix 79 159 Running
29 Kenny Wallace 55 Chev Monte Carlo 76 158 Running
30 Sterling Marlin 40 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 73 158 Running
31 Mike Bliss 27 Pontiac Grand Prix 70 158 Running
32 Kyle Petty 12 Ford Taurus 67 158 Running
33 Jeff Gordon 24 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 64 158 Running
34 Elliott Sadler 21 Ford Taurus 61 158 Running
35 Wally Dallenbach Jr 75 Ford Taurus 58 158 Running
36 Kevin Lepage 16 Ford Taurus 55 158 Running
37 Stacy Compton 9 Ford Taurus 57 157 Running
38 Rick Mast 14 Pontiac Grand Prix 49 156 Running
39 Brett Bodine 11 Ford Taurus 46 155 Running
40 Bobby Hamilton 4 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 43 129 Engine
41 Ricky Craven 50 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 40 59 Steering
42 John Andretti 43 Pontiac Grand Prix 37 41 Accident
43 Mark Martin 6 Ford Taurus 34 15 Accident

Rudd cements his Brickyard reputation

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