Pursuers gaining on Labonte in points chase
(August 27, 2000)
With 11 races left on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series
calendar, all indications are that a tight points battle is on the horizon.
Saturday night's goracing.com 500 at Bristol Motor
Speedway marked the end of a four-race stretch in which Bobby Labonte had steadily built
the biggest lead of the season atop the driver standings.
Heading to Darlington, S.C. for the Pepsi Southern 500 on
Sunday, just 290 points separate the first five drivers. The margin between first and
third place is just 195.
"This thing ain't over yet," said Rusty Wallace,
who has won three of the last five races, including the Bristol event, to surge from ninth
to fifth in the standings. "I don't think it's too late to get back in the
It's certainly not too late for Dale Jarrett to rally to win
his second consecutive title. Barely four months ago, he was in eighth place, 219 off
Labonte's leading pace.
By virtue of Jarrett's ninth-place finish Saturday night, he
stayed in second place in the season standings, knocked 20 points off Labonte's lead and
now trails by just 91.
"You just get what you can get," said Jarrett, who
started 31st at Bristol but quickly worked his way into the top-10 and stayed there for
the rest of the night. "We gained some points and that's what we have to do every
week. If we can continue to do that, we'll be in good shape. We've got some good tracks
coming up for us, so hopefully we can continue to do the same thing."
Labonte, still looking for his first career top-5 finish at
Bristol, started 32nd, fought leg cramps for most of the race, got wrecked by Mike Skinner
and wound up 15th, one lap off Wallace's winning pace.
"We're looking forward to getting to Darlington and
getting a good run there," Jimmy Makar, Labonte's crew chief, said while emergency
medical technicians administered fluids and vitamins to the driver following the race.
The wild card in the points chase may be seven-time champion
Dale Earnhardt, who is third in this year's standings. His fourth-place showing at Bristol
kept him in third place but meant that instead of trailing Labonte by 237 a week earlier,
his deficit shrank to 195.
Making matters more interesting, Earnhardt has a combined 14
career victories at Darlington and Richmond, Va., the next two tracks on the schedule.
"We fought back to fourth place and finished ahead of
Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett, so maybe we gained a little," Earnhardt said after he
came up short in his bid for career victory No. 10 on Bristol's .533-mile, high-banked
layout. "It was an OK night."
If Earnhardt continues that trend, he'll find himself in
position to battle for a record eighth NASCAR Winston Cup Series title. To do that,
however, he'll have to deny Jarrett his second and Labonte his first.
T h e E a r n h a r d t C o n n
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