NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. -- Harry Gant's magic ended nine laps from the end of yesterday's Tyson Holly Farms 400 when Dale Earnhardt darted into the lead and went on to end Gant's four-race winning streak.
Gant dominated the 400-lap event, leading 350 laps and appearing on the way to a modern-record fifth NASCAR Winston Cup win in a row until a broken brake lining opened the way for series leader Earnhardt.
Gant came out of the final pit stop, on lap 358, holding the lead and seemingly in command. But Earnhardt got past Morgan Shepherd to take second place in the pits, then went after Gant on the track.
With his brakes nearly gone, Gant, at 51 the oldest driver to win a Winston Cup race, was no match for Earnhardt, who moved up right behind Gant's rear bumper, then dived past on the outside on lap 392.
The four-time and defending Winston Cup champion then pulled away, driving his Chevrolet Lumina across the finish line 1.5 seconds ahead of Gant's Oldsmobile Cutlass that had won every race it entered in September. Earnhardt averaged 94.112 mph and earned $69,350.
Earnhardt's victory was his fourth of the season but his first in nine races. Combined with Ricky Rudd's 12th-place finish, Earnhardt's 52nd career win raised his season point lead from 59 to 112 with five events remaining.
Gant, who started from the pole for the first time since May 1987, blasted off at the start and appeared ready to turn the race into a one-man show. He nearly did.
The crowd favorite from nearby Taylorsville, N.C., shot away from the rest of the 33-car field at the green flag and was passing slower cars by lap 24 on the five-eighths-mile oval.
By the time Joe Ruttman hit the wall in turn four after bumping with Rick Wilson on lap 94, Gant had lapped all but 11 other cars.
Gant easily held the lead through the first two pit stops, both under caution flags, and several times built leads of more than five seconds.
He was so dominant in the middle portion of the race that the biggest excitement occurred when Geoff Bodine, running 12th -- the last car on the lead lap -- was black-flagged after the rear panel on his Ford came loose, flapping out behind the car.
Gant appeared able to pull away at will.
Finally, after the third caution flag pit stop, the lead group was able to stay closely bunched after the green flag waved.
When Gant pitted during a caution period on lap 253, Shepherd, who had pitted during the previous yellow, stayed on the track and took the lead. Gant, who had been in front all the way, suddenly was fourth, behind Shepherd, Jarrett and Earnhardt.
But Gant came charging back, to the delight of the crowd of more than 40,000. He followed Earnhardt past Jarrett on lap 260, then passed Earnhardt for second on lap 267. He then tracked down Shepherd and raced back into the lead on lap 294.
That's the way it stayed until Earnhardt took control nine laps from the end.
1. (16) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Lumina, 400, $69,350, 94.112. 2. (1) Harry Gant, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 400, $40.575. 3. (9) Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 400, $25,375. 4. (2) Davey Allison, Ford Thunderbird, 400, $19,600. 5. (3) Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird, 400, $18,875. 6. (7) Rusty Wallace, Pontiac Grand Prix, 400, $8,950. 7. (11) Brett Bodine, Buick Regal, 400, $9,280. 8. (10) Ken Schrader, Chevrolet Lumina, 400, $8,425. 9. (5) Dale Jarrett, Ford Thunderbird, 400, $7,975. 19. (4) Alan Kulwicki, Ford Thunderbird, 400, $13,355.
11. (27) Jimmy Hensley, Pontiac Grand Prix, 399, $5,975. 12. (22) Ricky Rudd, Chevrolet Lumina, 399, $9,950. 13. (20) Sterling Marlin, Ford Thunderbird, 398, $5,500. 14. (19) Terry Labonte, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 398, $6,750. 15. (14) Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 398, $12,050. 16. (21) Kyle Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 397, $9,550. 17. (17) Hut Stricklin, Buick Regal, 397, $5,375. 18. (13) Bobby Hamilton, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 397, $5,375. 19. (33) Richard Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 396, $5,975. 20. (15) Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet Lumina, 395. $5,350.
21. (25) Chad Little, Ford Thunderbird, 394, $3,450. 22. (30) Ted Musgrave, Pontiac Grand Prix, 394, $3,375. 23. (12) Jimmy Spencer, Chevrolet Lumina, 393, $5,425. 24. (8) Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 392, $9,925. 25. (18) Rick Mast, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 391, $5,400. 26. (31) Chuck Bown, Pontiac Grand Prix, 391, $5,225. 27. (28) Michael Waltrip, Pontiac Grand Prix, 391, $4,550. 28. (32) Jimmy Means, Pontiac Grand Prix, 390, $2,985. 29. (26) Joe Ruttman, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 353, $4,450. 30. (23) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet Lumina, 320, $10,075.
31. (24) Dave Marcis, Chevrolet Lumina, 315, rear gearing, $4,400. 32. (29) Rick Wilson, Buick Regal, 240, crash, $4,425. 33. (6) Ernie Irvan, Chevrolet Lumina, 164, crash, $9,225.