Earnhardt News
2000 Season

Pursuers gaining on Labonte in points chase

Bristol, Tenn. (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 battle."

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.

Stay tuned.



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