Labonte wins at Rockingham

Bobby Labonte started third and finished first, winning the Kmart/Dura Lube 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race here.

Labonte wins at Rockingham

But it wasn't nearly that simple - or easy. He didn't lead until lap 242 and plenty of others wanted it.

Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Ward Burton and Dale Jarrett rounded out an exhausted top five.

Only the top four finished on the lead lap in a race slowed by four quick cautions. Labonte trails Jarrett by five points after the second event of the season.

"We just kept adjusting all day and the track finally came to us," said Labonte, who said he got a tip from Earnhardt before the race - but refused to say what it was.

One thing was no secret: this was a not a driver vs. driver race, as cooler temperatures played havoc with chassis setups, the track chewed up tyres and rain was on the horizon.

Tyre management is always a concern on this gritty track in the North Carolina Sand Hills.

Worn tyres this day inverted the field several times as drivers discovered they were virtually skating around this 1.017-mile oval after 20 laps.

Indeed, those drivers who gave up track position for new rubber on a lap 20 caution were leading the race on lap 40.

New tyres propelled cars ten miles an hour faster than old ones, and a pit stop during green racing dropped a car down at least one lap; not a few fans were confused who was passing for the lead and who was passing to reclaim a lap.

There was no such thing as a gas stop as the high octane outlasted the rubber.

Only as halfway loomed was it apparent which cars would be contenders at the end.

Ward Burton's Pontiac started 11th but led easily, as did the Ford of Mark Martin, who moved to the front from a 33rd start.

Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt and polesitter Rusty Wallace were top-five fixtures.

The only cautions thrown were for cars spinning or scraping the wall. The fourth and possibly most important occurred on lap 187 when Jeff Fuller's car scraped the wall.

Many lead circuits cars pitted earlier under green and lost a lap as Gordon got the chance to stop leisurely under yellow.

Steve Park did not return for new tyres during that caution and so led Gordon, Jeff Burton, Sterling Marlin and Ward Burton to the green on lap 199.

Just 14 cars were on the lead lap.

Gordon reclaimed the lead on lap 221 but the Burton brothers powered by on lap 229 with Labonte, Sterling Marlin, Wallace, Stewart and Earnhardt nipping at Ward's heels. The group shuffled, anticipating stops by lap 260.

Earnhardt stayed on the track, leading his first lap of the race on 262, then pitting.

Unlike a totally uneventful Daytona 500, ten drivers swapped the lead 21 times; if any make seemed dominant, it was the Pontiac running last year's skin.

As the skies darkened and the pit cycle ended, Ward Burton led Labonte, Stewart, Earnhardt and brother Jeff. Position shuffling began again, the Pontiacs appearing better fresh out of the pits.

Jeff Burton's performance fell off and his smoking car was later black-flagged.

Leaders Labonte and Earnhardt pitted on lap 330 and ran 1-2 on the track moments later.

Labonte's pace eventually gave him an insurmountable five-second lead, as Jarrett finally got the handle on his Ford and challenged for fifth in the final laps.

Earnhardt pulled within 1.067 seconds as the race ended.































































































































































































































Pos


Driver


Car


Laps


1


M Martin


Ford


197


2


J Green


Chevrolet


197


3


R Hornaday


Chevrolet


197


4


J Keller


Chevrolet


197


5


J Burton


Ford


197


6


K Wallace


Chevrolet


197


7


K Grubb


Chevrolet


196


8


T Bodine


Chevrolet


196


9


M Kenseth


Chevrolet


196


10


L Amick


Chevrolet


196


11


R LaJoie


Chevrolet


196


12


E Sawyer


Ford


196


13


K Lepage


Chevrolet


195


14


J Sauter


Chevrolet


195


15


M McLaughlin


Chevrolet


195


16


M Ritch


Chevrolet


195


17


M Dillon


Chevrolet


195


18


C Chaffin


Ford


195


19


J Leffler


Pontiac


195


20


H Sadler


Chevrolet


195


21


B Hamilton Jr


Chevrolet


194


22


J Johnson


Chevrolet


194


23


P Parsons


Chevrolet


194


24


T Raines


Chevrolet


194


25


H Parker Jr


Chevrolet


194


26


M Green


Chevrolet


194


27


A Petty


Chevrolet


194


28


J Labonte


Chevrolet


193


29


A Lazzaro


Ford


193


30


B Alexander


Chevrolet


193


31


K Irwin


Chevrolet


193


32


C Atwood


Chevrolet


193


33


G Wasson


Chevrolet


193


34


D Steele


Chevrolet


193


35


P Jones


Chevrolet


193


36


D Green


Chevrolet


193


37


T Roper


Chevrolet


193


38


B Jones


Pontiac


192


39


T Fedewa


Chevrolet


190


40


M Borkowski


Pontiac


189


41


D Trickle


Chevrolet


189


42


B Hillin


Chevrolet


186


43


J Purvis


Pontiac


99

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