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Strange, strange day

B. Labonte pads points lead at rainy, dark Darlington

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Latest: Monday September 04, 2000 08:24 AM

  Bobby Labonte Bobby Labonte extended his lead to 20 points with ten races remaining. AP

DARLINGTON, S.C. (Ticker) -- They say races are won and lost in the pits. If so, Bobby Labonte's pit crew gave the Winston Cup points leader a victory in Sunday's rain-shortened Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

After a long day that began at 1 p.m. EDT and included two hours of delays due to rain and lightning, the race finally was stopped around 7:25 p.m. after 328 of 367 scheduled laps were completed. Officially, the event was completed in four hours, eight minutes.

Rain and darkness forced NASCAR officials to raise the checkered flag with Labonte behind the pace car after coming out first from a final pit stop several laps earlier. He started in a backup Pontiac Grand Prix from the 37th provisional spot after crashing his car on Friday.

"Obviously, the pit crew won it," Labonte said. "We didn't have the fastest race car. They never gave up. I didn't think I was going to win."

Jeff Burton, who also started near the back of the field in 35th, was second in a Ford Taurus. Dale Earnhardt was next in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, followed by Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet and Dale Jarrett's Ford.

Labonte's last pit stop lasted only 14.2 seconds as he received fuel and four new tires to last the rest of the way. However, they were not needed as the skies opened shortly after he was the first to leave pit road. He led the last six laps and only 10 overall.

It was Labonte's first win at this storied track. It also was his third victory of the season and 15th of his career, extending his lead over Jarrett by 20 points to 111 in the Winston Cup standings. Ten races remain.

Sunday's race looked like it would be called off on lap 207 when rain began to fall following the initial two-hour delay. Earnhardt and Jarrett gambled and elected to stay on the track, while Gordon, Mark Martin, Ward Burton and Labonte went to the pits.

"We had a pretty good car all day," said Earnhardt. "The caution came out and we worried about the rain. We stayed out, Jarrett and I. That was our day. Then we had to go back and work our way back to the front."

"That was a great day for the team. This is a lot better than we've been finishing lately," said Gordon, who finished 23rd or lower in his last four races. "We ran in the top five all day and had some great pit stops. We just never had that killer pit stop that got us out front."

The field ran under caution for the next 20 laps but received the green flag after the skies cleared. Earnhardt and Jarrett pitted shortly after and fell back but made up the ground before the finish.

Earnhardt was looking to tie David Pearson's record of 10 wins at Darlington. He has captured this event three times.

Ward Burton, who won the Mall.com 400 here in March, finished sixth after led for 59 laps. Earnhardt was up front for 47 laps.

Kevin Lepage, Ricky Rudd, Tony Stewart and Steve Park rounded out the top 10.

Pole-sitter Jeremy Mayfield led the first 35 laps, again between laps 49-79 and 81-118 before hitting the wall and dropping out on lap 120 with serious damage to his Ford. He finished 41st despite leading a race-high 104 laps.

The race featured 23 lead changes among 15 drivers and had nine cautions for 69 laps.

Next up on the Winston Cup schedule is Saturday night's Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 at Richmond International Raceway in Virginia.

 
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