T. Labonte bumps his way to Pontiac win Duel with Jarrett caps night of wrecks, cautions

Gordon loses points lead

June 07, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

RICHMOND, Va. -- Terry Labonte won the Pontiac Excitement 400 last night in a wild and furious finish before 103,000 fans at Richmond International Raceway.

But Labonte was afraid he might have damaged his friendship with Dale Jarrett as the two dueled to the finish line and continued to battle after the race.

Labonte said he bumped into Jarrett during the final three laps and wasn't surprised that Jarrett responded by running into him during the cool-down lap after the race was over.

"I apologized to Dale for running into him," said Labonte, who won his first race of the season and third of his career at Richmond. "I know he was upset and I don't blame him."

Jarrett said of Labonte: "He's not the type driver that normally does something like that. Is this out of character? When it comes time to win, I guess you do what you've gotta do."

Labonte passed Jarrett on the 398th lap and went on to win by two car lengths as the final lap was run under caution due to a wreck on the backstretch.

It was only fitting that the final lap be run under caution since there were four cautions in the final 40 laps and seven in the race for a total of 47 laps.

Labonte won $99,975 for his victory on a night that not only was marred by all the wrecks but a lot of feuding among drivers.

The most dramatic moment of the evening came on Lap 372 on the first turn when Jeff Gordon was knocked out of the race while he tried to pass Rusty Wallace for first place.

As Gordon was going for the lead, Wallace seemed to veer to the right to hit Gordon and mangled his car so badly that racing's golden boy couldn't continue.

Gordon was livid about the Wallace move, saying, "It's pretty obvious. Somebody [Wallace] can't stand to get passed, I guess. I came off Turn 2 and I had the spot on him and he pinched me up into the wall. We rubbed down the back straightaway. Then I finally get in front of him and he just drives into the side of me and spins me out."

Gordon finished 37th and lost his Winston Cup points lead, falling to third behind Jeremy Mayfield (1,868) and Rusty Wallace (1,843).

Gordon has 1,822 points.

"I didn't see any controversy going on," Wallace said. "I drove down in the corner, he drove down in the corner, we touched, a little racing accident. That was about it. No controversy in this race I know of."

The controversy began last night early in the race when Jeff Green lashed out at Ted Musgrave for running him off the track and into the wall on the backstretch.

"The 16 [Musgrave] wanted more room than I guess I gave him," Green said. "That's the second time he's spun me out in over a year. I don't know whether he's got a problem with me or not. I was just trying to survive. It tore this race car [Chevrolet] all to pieces. If he has a problem with me, he needs to come see me, not tear up the guy's car. It bruised my knee a little but I'm all right."

Also Green said, "This just makes me mad. We had a good car to start the race and this happens."

Musgrave defended himself. "When you race as tight as we were, things like that are going to happen," he said. "Sooner or later, it will work out sometimes and sometimes it won't."

While not much worked out for any of the drivers last night, it was Labonte who still had to be happy in spite of all his controversy.

"So much happened out there tonight, I can't remember too much of it," Labonte said. "This was really an important win for us. I needed it at this time of the season with our racing team which is almost all new."

Labonte praised his "young" crew chief Andy Graves for helping put together a successful team.

"I never thought I'd be on a team where the crew chief is younger than I am," said Labonte. "But maybe that's just a sign of how old I'm getting [41]. You just have to keep coming close until you can win one and that's what we did."

(Starting position in parentheses)

1. (16) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 400, $99,975, 97.044.

(4) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 400, $75,625.

3. (22) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 400, $56,875

4. (7) Ken Schrader, Chevrolet, 400, $62,075.

5. (19) Mark Martin, Ford, 400, $65,025.

6. (15) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, 400, $39,075..

7. (13) Jeff Burton, Ford, 400, $42,150.

8. (14) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 400, $43,750.

9. (11) Kenny Irwin, Ford, 400, $41,850.

10. (3) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet, 400, $31,300.

11. (26) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 400, $41,900.

12. (18) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 400, $32,750.

13. (9) Chad Little, Ford, 400, $26,175.

14. (37) Jimmy Spencer, Ford, 399, $35,675.

15. (10) Ted Musgrave, Ford, 399, $33,735.

16. (39) Bobby Hamilton, Chevrolet, 399, $35,500.

17. (20) Dick Trickle, Ford, 399, $30,800.

18. (8) Johnny Benson, Ford, 399, $30,450.

19. (24) Ward Burton, Pontiac, 399, $30,225..

20. (25) Brett Bodine, Ford, 398, $32,150.

21. (38) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 398, $34,250.

22. (29) John Andretti, Pontiac, 398, $34,125.

23. (5) Kenny Wallace, Ford, 398, $22,950.

24. (27) Kyle Petty, Pontiac, 398, $29,225.

25. (21) Bill Elliott, Ford, 398, $29,075.

26. (12) Lake Speed, Ford, 397, $22,450.

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