ROCKINGHAM, NC - Dale Jarrett and Kurt Busch traded paint and positions during the last 10 laps at Rockingham, but in the end Jarrett finds victory lane for the 31st time in his career in the Robert Yates No. 88 Ford. "Well, we know what kind of...
ROCKINGHAM, NC - Dale Jarrett and Kurt Busch traded paint and positions during the last 10 laps at Rockingham, but in the end Jarrett finds victory lane for the 31st time in his career in the Robert Yates No. 88 Ford.
"Well, we know what kind of competitor he is," said Jarrett in victory lane. "Wasn't sure I was going to be able to get him. We'd both kind of worn our tires out. I just got to say thanks to Brad Parrott and all the pit guys."
Busch, who led 150 laps, got mired in lapped traffic during the races final ten laps; which allowed Jarrett to take the lead. They traded positions again with five laps left on the board, but in the races final three circuits, Jarrett passed Busch on the high side and pulled out to a half second lead on the second place Roush Racing No. 97 for the win.
It was Jarrett's second career win at Rockingham while Brad Parrott, Jarrett's new crew chief, scored his first career Winston Cup victory.
Busch, who also finished second at last weeks Daytona 500, now takes a 31-point lead in Winston Cup championship points.
"This is a much more disappointing second than last week," said Busch. "We just burned the tires off a little bit. I don't know why we were as good as we were for 60 laps, we just can't run that long stretch for 80 laps. So, you know congratulations to Dale Jarrett, classy guy, won the race today. It was a lot of fun racing him."
Rounding out the top five were Matt Kenseth, Ricky Craven, and rookie Jamie McMurray.
"We tested here a few weeks ago," said McMurray. "So I felt really comfortable coming back and not getting a lot of practice on Friday. We started today like we ended our test. The thing that was exciting to me today, the racetrack started out green and it changed a lot.
"Being a brand new team, and Donnie (crew chief Wingo) and I not ever working together, I think he was able to read me pretty well to make adjustments to the car and to make it better. If you had left your car the same from the beginning to the end, you would have been junk at the end.
"We changed a lot of things. He changed things on the car that I hadn't really done in the past. I was a little bit skeptical on what he was doing but trusted him. That's part of this deal, having trust."
Under windy and cold conditions this afternoon the field took the green flag as first time Bud Pole Winner Dave Blaney led them to the line. Blaney would lead nine laps, before the No. 6 Roush Racing Ford of Mark Martin would cruise by Blaney for the lead followed by Ricky Craven and Bill Elliott grabbing second and third positions.
Craven would pass Martin for the lead on lap 17, but his reign in the top position would not last long, as on lap 27, Rusty Wallace would pass Craven's Pontiac and assume the front of the pack.
With Wallace still out front, the first caution came out on lap 45, a competition yellow thrown by NASCAR due to lack of practice. This yellow turned out to be a lucky break for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., earlier an incident with another car caused left-front tire rub, which caused his tire to blow just prior to the lap 45 yellow flag.
Earnhardt would make five trips to pit road to try and distinguish the damage caused by the left-front tire.
Wallace, Elliott and Martin were at the front of the field at the restart on lap 55. Wallace remained the race leader, until the races second caution flew on lap 88 when Todd Bodine hit the wall. After a round of pit stops, Mark Martin emerged with the race lead, followed by Wallace, Bobby Labonte and Busch.
Kenny Wallace brought out the third caution on lap 108 after contact with Jack Sprague off Turn 2, careened Wallace's Dodge into the inside retaining wall. Jerry Nadeau, bumped in the rear by Earnhardt Jr., spun off Turn 4 on Lap 127 to bring out the day's fourth caution.
All of the cars on the lead laps, pitted during both cautions, but Rusty Wallace managed to beat them all off pit road to maintain the lead.
Earnhardt, Jr. would continue to have huge headaches, as he brought out cautions five and six, both for single car spins. Earnhardt battled broken fender braces and a bad brake rotor that made the No. 8 car unmanageable all day. Earnhardt finished 33rd, three laps down.
"We just didn't have a good car, kept spinning out," Earnhardt said. "I don't think we've had a good finish here since I started racing. Expectations weren't high."
One of those spins caused damage to the right front fender of the No. 20 Chevy of Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart. Stewart finished 20th, one lap down.
At the front of the field, at lap 209 Kurt Busch began his rally to get around race leader Rusty Wallace. It would take him two laps to maneuver around the No. 2 Dodge, but at lap 220 he would be successful and take the lead for the first time.
Wallace making his 600th career start today began to fade towards the races last laps, in the end he would lead 182 of them and finish 6th.
"About three-quarters of the way through the race, I could see the track getting real black," Wallace said. "I had the thing really turning good. It just got too free on me. It got so loose you could hardly touch the throttle. We tightened it up on a couple pit stops. It would tighten it up, but it made it lose the front end. I couldn't fix both things."
"It was a good run for the first time out," Wallace continued. "It was a good evaluation for the first time in a Dodge on a downforce track. It had a lot of power, handled good and proved it could lead."
With Busch in the lead, the races final caution came on lap 298, when four time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon kissed the back bumper of the DEI No. 8 Chevy, thusly spinning down the front stretch.
"It was definitely a fight," said Gordon. "It was one of those days where we were gaining on it each time. We had great pit stops. The guys were awesome in the pits. We were just slowly, but surely, making our way up there. But, you just can't get that far and then have that (a spin) happen. It was unfortunate that it happened, but it was kind of out of our control. When we got back there (in the field) - we had a good car, but we didn't have a car that was capable of just driving right up through everybody."
After the Gordon/Earnhardt incident, pit stops commenced, and the No. 99 Roush Ford of Jeff Burton chose to stay out to gain track position, which put him into the race lead at lap 304. Kurt Busch's fresh tires, however, would place him back at the front at lap 322.
Jarrett moved up to second on lap 355 and began trying to run down Busch. Jarrett moved past Busch on lap 385. Busch attempted to regain the position, and actually did get the lead momentarily on lap 389 but Jarrett jumped to the high side to gain the spot and the victory.
Ford swept the top three spots, followed by a Pontiac and two Dodge's. The highest finishing Chevrolet was the No. 48 Hendrick ride of Jimmie Johnson, which placed eighth.
Inclement weather all weekend meant almost no track time for the competitors. They had one hour of practice before Friday's qualifying and heavy rain washed out all activity on Saturday. With such little track time, teams had to guess at race set-ups and deal with cold conditions and strong winds, which played with track conditions all afternoon.
Chilly weather also seemed to keep some die-hard fans at home. The grandstands, which hold 60,000 people were skeletal, the seats were half full at best. That does not bode well for Rockingham's attempt to keep two Winston Cup races next season when NASCAR reevaluates it's schedule and tracks for the 2004 season.
In related news, three US Army Paratroopers were injured in NASCAR pre-race festivities, after becoming caught in a strong headwind on their descent into the track. The skydivers were knocked into various spots in the garage and infield and were transported to local hospitals for monitoring and treatment. There was no information available regarding their conditions.