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MOTOR RACING ROUNDUP

Jarrett Finally Breaks Through

October 23, 2000|From Wire Reports

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 victory.

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 earned 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."

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 only three races remaining this season.

Labonte lost a lap when he pitted with a deflating tire only 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, only 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 was the fire in Kenseth's pit that began when something hot fell from the car and on to spilled gasoline during a tire change. Rick Machinski, Kenseth's gas man, 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 only 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.

*

Michael Schumacher ended the Formula One season in complete triumph, winning the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang and helping Ferrari to its first sweep of the driving and constructors titles since 1979.

Schumacher, who clinched the driver's title two weeks ago at the Japan Grand Prix, ended the season with nine victories and his third driving title. The German won with Benetton in 1994 and 1995.

Schumacher's victory and the third-place finish by teammate Rubens Barrichello gave the venerable Italian team its first double since Jody Scheckter was at the wheel a generation ago.

Schumacher completed 56 laps in 1 hour, 35 minutes, 54.235 seconds, averaging 120.695 mph.

*

Scott Schmidt, despite finishing fourth on the racecourse, ended up with the victory Saturday night in the 30-lap Supermodified Racing League feature auto race before 4,926 at Irwindale Speedway.

Schmidt, of Fort Lupton, Colo., was awarded the title when the first three finishers--Troy Regier of Dinuba, Calif.; Joe Gosek of Oswego, N.Y., and Jim Birges of Fresno--were disqualified after the race. Regier's and Gosek's cars were too wide, and Birges' muffler protruded too far.

The disqualification was disappointing for Regier, who had been the race's fastest qualifier but had been dropped to the last row on the starting grid because of a tire change after his qualifying heat.

Up Next

Schedule of events for racing's major circuits. The Formula One season ended with Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.

CART

* Sunday--Marlboro 500, Fontana.

NASCAR

* Nov. 5--Dura-Lube 500, Phoenix

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