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Pop Secret 400 - Rockingham Speedway, Rockingham, N.C.

Qualifying-
Jeff Gordon qualified the #24 DuPont Chevy in 3rd position for Sunday's race at the 1.017 mile speedway. His lap time was 23.364 seconds, and his average speed was 156.703 mph around the track. Jeremy Mayfield captured the Bud Pole with a lap of 23.269 seconds. Bobby Labonte will start 2nd, with Bill Elliot and Mark Martin rounding out the top-5.

Race-
Tire wear was the name of the game at Rockingham on Sunday afternoon at the Pop Secret 400. With the number of cautions and the abrasive surface of the track, many teams put on tires every chance they got. Tires were changed at an average of every 30 laps, and each set cost $1500 dollars. Wow, I'd hate to be a team owner.

Gordon started third and stayed in the top five to seven much of the day. Toward the end of the race, a long green flag run threw the #24 team for a loop. This is what happened: Robbie Loomis and the rest of the team had set the car up for long runs. However, the race was turning into a series of short runs, and Jeff wanted a car that was better for short runs.

"I made a bad call there one time," the driver said. "I told the guys to put a round of bite in it. It really hurt me. I went from being a third or fourth-place car to a 10th or 11th place car there for awhile. We weren't a threat at all."

At lap 305, Gordon was back in 12th place and struggling with the car and with himself.

"If I had a gun in that car, I would have shot myself because it was absolutely a horrible call. I just wish it had never even happened."

Bobby Labonte pitted during the green flag run, but a fire in Matt Kenseth's pit brought out a caution and put Labonte a lap down. Finally, Gordon got to stop for four tires and fuel. His team gave him a quick stop and he got out in around 5th spot.

"We had an opportunity the next stop to take it out. We decided we'd just raise the track bar some more, maybe that would be the way to go, and it still wasn't near enough..."

Then at lap 350, the caution came out the final time for Michael Waltrip's blown engine. Gordon pitted once again.

"...so there at the end we took two rounds out of the left rear. That still wasn't even enough but it was good enough to make the car a lot better."

This time, he came out third behind Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett. On the restart, Rudd was slow off of Turn 4. Gordon got below him and made the pass in half a lap. Then it was time to go for the leader. In a few laps he closed on the back bumper of Dale Jarrett. He tried for two laps to get around him taking the low line, but it didn't work.

"After we ran a few laps, I knew I just didn't have the front grip in the front tires I needed to get underneath him (Jarrett) and get by. Once he got that outside lane working for him there really wasn't any way I was going to get by him. Once the tires get some laps on 'em and he moved up to that outside lane, it was almost impossible to get by him."

Jarrett ended up pulling away from Gordon to win by a margin of over 2 seconds. It was only Jarrett's second win of the year, having won the 2000 Daytona 500.

"We sort of semi-set up for a short run there at the end, and that's what got me to second I believe. The car was really good when they dropped the green flag, and that's why I put some heat on D.J., but the longer we ran the slower I got and that's why I fell back. I'm just thankful that Ricky (Rudd) didn't get to me. I don't think he would have had a problem getting by me if he had gotten to me."

Due to Bobby Labonte's badly timed pit stop Dale Earnhardt gained some ground on him. However, the handle went away on Earnhardt's car, and he only finished 3 positions ahead of Bobby. Bobby Labonte leads the points by 201 points over Dale Earnhardt. Jeff Gordon is ninth, with eight-place Mark Martin only 138 points away. Let's see if Jeff can get at least to 8th by the end of the season.

Article by: Charlie Young

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