Formula One
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 Thursday, October 26
Jarrett wins; Labonte keeps big points lead
 Associated Press


ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Dale Jarrett finally mastered North Carolina Speedway.

After finishing second six times in his last nine starts on the 1.017-mile oval, the defending Winston Cup champion took the lead late in Sunday's Pop Secret Popcorn 400 and pulled steadily away from Jeff Gordon to earn his first Rockingham win.

The race was slowed in the late laps by a fire in the pits that injured a crewman and two track firefighters.

Jarrett, who had not won since the season-opening Daytona 500, took the lead with 43 of the 393 laps remaining when his Robert Yates Racing crew got him off pit road ahead of the pack during the last of nine caution periods.

Gordon drove past Ricky Rudd to take second place moments after the green flag came out for the start of lap 354 and challenged Jarrett's No. 88 Ford briefly. But Jarrett finally moved away, beating Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet to the finish line by 2.197-seconds -- nearly a full straightaway.

"Finally. No more bridesmaid here," said Jarrett, who picked up the 24th victory of his career.

It was Gordon who beat him in several of those second-place finishes.

"I thought about that when I saw him in my mirror," Jarrett said. "I thought I passed him and he was long gone a while ago, but I just protected the high side. It's hard to pass low here."

Gordon said his crew made major adjustments on the last pit stop "and the car came to life.

"But then it fell off after a little while. If I could have got ahead of D.J., it might have been a different story, but he was definitely quicker there at the end."

Dale Earnhardt, trying desperately to catch series leader Bobby Labonte in their championship duel, failed to take full advantage of what could have been a huge break with just three races remaining this season.

Labonte lost a lap when he pitted with a deflating tire just four laps before a caution flag brought out by a fire in Matt Kenseth's pit allowed the rest of the leaders to make scheduled stops.

Earnhardt, who had been running among the leaders most of the day, suddenly developed handling problems and began slipping back into the field. At one point, he was 19th, the last driver on the lead lap, just one position ahead of Labonte.

The seven-time champion did manage to pass a few cars in the waning laps and finished 17th, gaining nine points on the leader. He'll head into the race Nov. 5 in Phoenix trailing Labonte by 201 points.

Despite all the yellow flags, the only serious accident of the day was the pit fire that apparently began when someone dropped a gas can that still had fuel in it.

Rick Machinski, Kenseth's gasman, was flown by helicopter to a Charlotte hospital for evaluation and treatment of second-degree burns on his neck and face. Two firefighters were treated for minor burns at the infield care center and released.

With 60 laps run under caution, Jarrett, the last of 10 drivers to lead the race, averaged just 110.417 mph.

Pole-winner Jeremy Mayfield led eight times for 169 laps before losing six laps with a battery problem. He wound up 29th.

Jeff Burton, who battled Mayfield through much of the race and led six times for 116 laps, faded near the end and finished fourth, behind Rudd and just ahead of Rusty Wallace, Steve Park and Tony Stewart.

 ESPN's Whit Watson talks with Pop Secret 400 winner Dale Jarrett on RPM 2Night.
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 Jeff Gordon hopes this finish will be a positive note for his team during the off-season.
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 A fifth place car, with a first place crew gave Ricky Rudd a third place finish.
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 Jeff Burton sees an exciting battle ahead during this stretch run for the points title.
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 After finishing seventh, Tony Stewart says he just ran into a bit of bad luck at Rockingham.
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 Points leader Bobby Labonte kept a positive attitude, despite finishing 20th.
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 Handling problems hurt Dale Earnhardt's chances of catching Bobby Labonte in the points race.
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