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Pepsi Southern 500 - Darlington Raceway

Qualifying-
Jeff qualified the #24 DuPont Chevy into a 10th place starting spot Friday afternoon. He rounded the egg-shaped oval of Darlington Raceway in 29.275 seconds, at an average speed of 167.980 mph.

Jeremy Mayfield won the Bud Pole for the event with a lap of 29.022 seconds. Johnny Benson, Ward Burton, who won the spring event at Darlington, Mike Skinner, and Mark Martin round out the top five.

Notes-

  • Johnny Benson's start on Sunday will be his best ever Winston Cup start.
  • Jeremy Mayfield won his fourth career Bud Pole.
  • Bobby Labonte, the man everyone is chasing in the points, crashed his car during practice on Friday and had to move to a back up. Will this be the race that ruins Bobby's chance at a title?
  • Jeff Gordon won the pole here last spring, and found at the end of the race that he could have finished much better than he did because he was too conservative on his tires. He is also the man who won four straight Southern 500's. Look for a strong run from him, which is desperately needed.

Race-
Bobby Labonte won the Southern 500 this week on a day full of Mother Nature's wrath. The race was delayed at lap 38 by rain. The delay lasted two hours and seven minutes. It was a long day for some drivers, but Labonte never gave up.

The race officially started at 1pm. Jeremy Mayfield started on the pole with Johnny Benson next to him. When the green flag flew, Mayfield and Ward Burton flew by Benson and jumped out front. On lap five, Chad Little got bumped by Joe Nemechek and spun. Behind them, Hut Stricklin slowed up, which caused Dave Marcis to tap him. This brought out the first caution. Somewhere ahead of this bunch, there was an incident between Matt Kenseth and Steve Park, causing them to both have damage to thier cars.

On lap 16, Mike Skinner was seen smoking. Turns out he blew his engine. The race restarted, but didn't last long before the rain came. On lap 38, Nascar red flagged the race. The race was restarted around 4pm. After pit stops, Ward Burton found himself back a few spots. In his effort to get to the front, he tapped Benson and pushed him in the wall. Kenny Wallace had nowhere to go and hit Benson. The #10 car would eventually finish 120 laps down.

On lap 120, Jeremy Mayfield, who had been leading every lap except for pit stop laps, since the beginning, passes Dave Marcis to put him a lap down. Thinking he was clear, Mayfield slides up and hits the #71 car. Mayfield hits the wall, severely damaging his car. He didn't finish the race. Nascar didn't throw the caution for this wreck, which caused all of us at my house to wonder why. There had been a hit on the wall with major damage. With all of the cars driving that high up the track, they should have at least looked for debris. A few laps later, Jeff Gordon makes a pit stop that was just a little early because he felt like he had a tire going down. Hmm, wonder if he ran over something?

The rain came again on lap 207. Earnhardt and Jarrett were 1 and 2. Both were getting reports from the crews that there was severe weather coming in a few laps. The #3 and #88 decide to stay out. Richard Childress told his driver that the race would end early. But, it didn't come. The light rain that had brought out the caution stopped. Nascar had the jet dryers out there with the cars to keep the track from getting too wet. When Earnhardt and Jarrett saw the jet dryers go behind the wall, they both came down pit road.

It seemed several times during the day that the skies were going to open up and dump on the track, but the clouds stayed just off to the side. At one point, streaks of were seen in the background. The drivers knew that the race could end at any time. With 48 laps to go, Jerry Nadeau blew his engine. The leaders came down pit road. The pit crews did an awesome job on Sunday. The Rainbow Wariors gave Jeff four tires with an air pressure adjustment and got him out in 13.9 seconds. But, Bobby Labonte's crew did even better and he came out with the lead.

The race never restarted. The heavens opened. Bobby Labonte had his first ever win at the famed track. He started in 37th in a backup car after wrecking his primary car on Friday when his throttle stuck. He said that they had a fifth place car all day and thanked his crew who won the race for him.

At one point in the race, ESPN went silent as the tower lost power. Credit goes to them, however, because they stuck with the race anyway. Jeremy Mayfield led the most laps, but finished 41st. Jeff Gordon ended up 4th, stating that he was very happy with the finish, especially after the last few weeks. Jeff remains 10th in the points, 648 behind points leader Bobby Labonte. Labonte gained 20 points on Dale Jarrett. Labonte must finish second in every race left to beat Jarrett for the championship, third to beat Earnhardt.

Next stop: Richmond International Raceway for the Chevy Monte carlo 400

Race Recap by: Julie Shippee