Formula One
 Monday, May 29
Kenseth joins rookie rival in Victory Lane
 Associated Press


CONCORD, N.C. -- It's not like Matt Kenseth is sick of Dale Earnhardt Jr., but he sure would like a break from him.

No matter where Kenseth has raced over his career, Earnhardt Jr. has beat him. He edged Kenseth out for the last two Busch Series titles, then beat him in the bid to become the first rookie to win a Winston Cup race this season.

Matt Kenseth, Steve Park
Steve Park spins his Chevrolet, as Matt Kenseth (17) drives past him on his way to victory Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600.

But Kenseth didn't give up and moved closer toward evening the score Sunday night when he earned his first Winston Cup victory in the Coca-Cola 600.

"I'm real conscience about it, mostly because you guys won't let me forget about it," Kenseth said. "Really, you feel bad about getting beat by him every year. But it's not like he's just been beating us, he's been beating everyone."

Not on Sunday, though, when Kenseth used two quick pit stops to put himself into contention for the win.

He passed leader Bobby Labonte on lap 374 and slowly pulled away to beat him to the finish line by about two car-lengths.

After taking the checkered flag, Kenseth circled back around the track and cut doughnuts in the grass on the Coca-Cola logo.

Kenseth, who started 21st, came back from farther in the field than any other previous winner.

Dale Earnhardt finished third and was followed in the top five by Earnhardt Jr., and Dale Jarrett.

Jeremy Mayfield was sixth, followed by Mike Skinner, Rusty Wallace and Steve Park. Jeff Gordon, who gambled by taking just two tires on the final pit stop, rounded out the top 10.

The victory was sweet redemption for Kenseth, who dominated last month at California and had a late lead but lost it on a caution and finished third, his previous best finish of the season.

"My heart started beating pretty hard as soon as I took the lead from Bobby," Kenseth said. "I remembered California when I thought we had that won, too, so I got a little nervous. I didn't think we had it in the bank until there was two to go."

Although California had been his only top-five finish of the season, Kenseth came into the Coca-Cola 600 leading Earnhardt Jr. in the rookie points standings. Earnhardt Jr. has won two races this season, but Kenseth has been more consistent.

Still, he's struggled to get even a piece of the spotlight Earnhardt Jr. has claimed, so he quietly went about his business.

"I'm used to kind of being overshadowed by Dale Jr.," Kenseth said.

And he almost was again on Sunday, when Earnhardt Jr. went to Victory Lane to congratulate him.

"I really didn't know what to think," Kenseth said. "When he won his (first) race, I left him a little note and then called him the next morning. I mean, that's a big accomplishment in someone's life, someone's career, to win a Winston Cup race. He was just congratulating me."

Kenseth used a 15-second pit stop on lap 309 to beat Earnhardt Jr. off pit road and take his first lead of the night. But Earnhardt Jr., who led a race-high 175 laps, passed him eight laps later and looked to be running away with the race.

Earnhardt Jr. had about a four-second lead on the rest of the field when the seventh caution flag of the night came out on lap 362. Five cars beat Earnhardt Jr. out of the pits, including Kenseth, who came out in third.

He stayed there while Labonte passed leader Jeff Gordon, then settled into second place and bided his time. He made his move on Labonte on the straightaway headed into turn one of lap 374 and never looked back.

"The last couple of laps I was just trying not to hit the wall," Kenseth said. "I started getting a little teary there and just tried to hit my marks. It's real easy to mess one of these things up."

Kenseth's victory marked a rookie sweep at Lowe's Motor Speedway as Earnhardt Jr. won The Winston last week.

And Earnhardt Jr. looked like the car to beat again on Sunday. He started from the pole and led six different times. But after dominating most of the race, his crew made a poor adjustment on the final pit and he couldn't challenge Kenseth for the victory.

"The car was a little loose on that last run and I just couldn't drive it," he said. "We may have got a bad set of tires -- I really struggled with them. We sure weren't the same car as we were before that."

That's the breaks of the 600-mile race, NASCAR's longest of the Winston Cup series. To win, a team must be able to make the needed adjustments to conform to the changing conditions of the day-into-night 400-lap race.

Robby Gordon, seeking to become the third driver to race in both the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR race on the same day, only partially completed the feat. Rain delayed the start of the Indy 500 by three hours, making him late in his bid to start the 600.

Gordon arrived at Lowe's Motor Speedway 254 laps into the NASCAR race and in the middle of a rain delay.

He got behind the wheel of his No. 13 Ford when racing resumed an hour later, but was assessed a five-lap penalty because his crew had worked on the car under the red-flag stop for rain. When he was finally permitted on the track, he was 10 laps off the pace, in 40th place. He finished 35th.

The most disappointed driver had to have been Jerry Nadeau, who had by far the best run of his Winston Cup career before blowing an engine on lap 360.

Nadeau, in his third year, looked like one of the early contenders, leading five times for 115 laps. A decision not to pit with the rest of the field before the rain delay cost him the lead and he had dropped back to 25th when he was knocked out of the race.

He finished 38th and was bitterly disappointed.

"There's not much you can do," he said. "I thought we had the best car out there, but that stuff happens."

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Without walkway, fans cross highway on foot to attend Coca-Cola 600

Rain disrupts Gordon's double attempt

 Rookie Matt Kenseth gets his first career win.
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 Matt Kenseth talks about holding off Bobby Labonte.
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 Kenseth would not give up, according to Bobby Labonte.
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 Dale Earnhardt Jr. just didn't have it in the end.
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 The intimidator couldn't keep up at the Coca-Cola 600.
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 Dale Jarrett couldn't get out of the corners all night.
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 Jeff Gordon felt he wasn't any better than a fourth-place car.
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