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Petty ends drought, wins Miller

THE BALTIMORE SUN

DOVER, Del. -- If anyone needed a victory in the Miller Genuine Draft 500 yesterday, Kyle Petty and his crew chief Barry Dodson did.

It had been two years since Petty had won a race. The lack of success had been especially hard on Dodson, who wanted a victory in memory of his two children, who were killed in a car accident nearly seven months ago.

And so, with a record crowd of 101,000 packed into Dover International Speedway, Petty and his Grand Prix dominated the race.

Petty led 271 laps and beat Bobby Labonte's Monte Carlo to the finish line by .22 of a second. Ted Musgrave's Thunderbird was a close third.

"It's been a long, long time since we've run like this, like we were competitive and could win a race," said Petty. "And we've had a lot of tragedy to absorb in this team. This ends a lot of frustration for us to win today."

Dodson, who was celebrating his 42nd birthday yesterday, was near tears when he met his driver in victory lane.

"This keeps me alive," he said. "I talked to some people this morning and I said, 'I just feel like walking away and hiding. Everything's going so bad.' This win, it's not just for me, it's for the race team, for Pontiac [which hadn't won in 42 races]. And it's for my children. I felt like if I couldn't win a race this year for my children, you know, maybe I'd do something else."

It was the first time this season that Pontiac, Chevrolet and Ford had finished one-two-three in a race. And the crowd here put Dover in a class with Indianapolis, Daytona, Charlotte and Talladega as the only tracks to draw more than 100,000 fans for a stock car race.

Petty, who averaged 119.880 mph, drove his car into victory lane after the 4-hour, 10-minute, 15-second race and needed oxygen before he could get out of the car.

"I think it's just been so long since I've raced competitively, I'm plain tired," he said. "I can't be more honest than that. When the checkered flag waved, my only thought was that I was glad it was over.

"We weren't close to winning last week in Charlotte, and our best finish before today was a ninth," said Petty, who was 26th in the Winston Cup points standings before yesterday's race and is now 23rd. "And when today started, and we were back there in 37th, it looked like the same, old deal. But we won.

"Racing amazes me."

Though the victory was his first since winning the June race at Pocono, Pa., in 1993, Petty's first thought when he got out of the race car was to dedicate the race to Dodson's two children, Trey, 18, and Tia, 17, who were killed in a single-car accident the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Darlington, S.C.

Petty said his team, which had "run like junk" all of last season, had had a clear focus this season because of the tragedy.

"You have to say it affected us," Petty said. "You'd be a fool to say otherwise. . . . It has been a focal point for us. We wanted to do this for Barry and his family. It's been a long time since Barry had won, and the personal tragedy just added to the burden.

"I think that's why this season has been so frustrating for us. Because this season we've had a clear purpose and worked hard to get this kind of result. But it's taken a long time to get what we wanted."

Before yesterday's race, tires had been a concern, but they were no problem. Goodyear trucked in 1,100 new tires Saturday night after most competitors in Saturday's 200-mile Busch Grand National blistered tires on the newly paved concrete oval.

"We were extremely pleased with the performance of the tires today," said Leo Mehl, Goodyear's general manager of racing worldwide. "Our decision to bring in the new tires proved to be a correct one -- tires were not a factor in determining the winner of the race."

Because the new tires, with a more heat-resistant compound, arrived here at 3 a.m. yesterday, drivers were given the opportunity to practice and adjust their setups for yesterday's race during an early-morning, half-hour practice.

"I think that helped us," said Petty. "I know we enjoyed doing it because it gave us the chance to figure the setup based on [yesterday's] weather."

And as it turned out, starting 37th also helped.

Just two laps into the race. John Andretti's car came loose in Turn 4 and was tapped from behind by Elton Sawyer's car, causing the largest crash in Dover history.

The fourth-turn melee collected 19 cars and blocked the turn. Only the cars of Andretti, Dale Jarrett, Sawyer and Bobby Hillin were immediately put out of the race by the accident. Everyone else made repairs and continued.

When the race was over, 38 cars still were running, which is also a track record, though only nine of them were on the lead lap.

Petty, who turned 36 Friday, was the major benefactor.

"I went from 37th to 20th in one lap," he said. "That wreck took out a bunch of good cars -- [Mark] Martin, Jarrett, Rusty [Wallace], Ricky Rudd. But in 37th, I was so far back, I wasn't even running fast yet. When you're in the back -- and I'm well-versed in starting that far back -- you just sort of take your time, wait for everyone in front of you to sort themselves out and then you start to race.

"When my spotter told me everyone was crashing coming out of 4, I basically stopped the car and waited for it to clear."

Petty took the lead for the first time on Lap 132. He dominated during the middle part of the race, at one time lapping all but five cars, and then took the lead for the last time on Lap 459.

Labonte, who won last week at Charlotte, and Musgrave, who is still looking for his first victory, took turns pressuring Petty over the final 40 laps but could not get around him.

1. (37) Kyle Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 500, $69,655, 119.88 mph. 2. (3) Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 500, $59,555. 3. (32) Ted Musgrave, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $43,305. 4. (9) Hut Stricklin, Ford Thunderbird, 500, $35,615. 5. (23) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 500, $45,545. 6. (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 499, $47,890. 7. (5) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 499, $30,540. 8. (12) Michael Waltrip, Pontiac Grand Prix, 499, $26,440. 9. (16) Rusty Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 499, $31,490. 10. (8) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 499, $19,440.

11. (40) Ken Schrader, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 498, $25,540. 12. (41) Derrike Cope, Ford Thunderbird, 498, $18,940. 13. (17) Rick Mast, Ford Thunderbird, 498, $23,540. 14. (31) Mike Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 496, $18,140. 15. (20) Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 496, $18,940. 16. (36) Steve Grissom, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 496, $17,390. 17. (38) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford Thunderbird, 496, $17,165. 18. (35) Kenny Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 496, $13,350. 19. (33) Robert Pressley, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 495, $22,865. 20. (39) Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 494, $23,215.

21. (10) Brett Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 494, $26,165. 22. (7) Ricky Craven, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 488, $17,015. 23. (22) Randy LaJoie, Pontiac Grand Prix, 486, $21,365. 24. (14) Bobby Hamilton, Pontiac Grand Prix, 478, $16,215. 25. (21) Jeff Burton, Ford Thunderbird, 461, $21.765. 26. (15) Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 449, $20,915. 27. (6) Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 446, $27,465. 28. (42) Greg Sacks, Pontiac Grand Prix, 445, $17,815. 29. (11) Jimmy Spencer, Ford Thunderbird, 437, $15,765. 30. (26) Todd Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 436, $20,215.

31. (29) Ricky Rudd, Ford Thunderbird, 436, $25,665. 32. (24) Dick Trickle, Ford Thunderbird, 427, $17,605. 33. (30) Chuck Brown, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 418, $12,555. 34. (34) Lake Speed, Ford Thunderbird, 405, $12,505. 35. (13) Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird, 392, $26,305. 36. (25) Dave Marcis, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 315, accident, $12,280. 37. (19) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 290, engine, $27,080. 38. (2) Ward Burton, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 149, suspension, $12,680. 39. (4) John Andretti, Ford Thunderbird, 2, accident, $13,280. 40. (18) Dale Jarrett, Ford Thunderbird, 2, accident, $26,680.

41. (27) Elton Sawyer, Ford Thunderbird, 2, accident, $20,280. 42. (28) Bobby Hillin, Ford Thunderbird, 2, accident, $12,780.

Time of race: 4 hours, 10 minutes, 15 seconds. Margin of victory: .22 seconds. Caution flags: 5 for 38 laps. Lead changes: 20 among 8 drivers.

Lap leaders: Gordon pole-1; W.Burton 2-44; Gordon 45-131; Petty 132-133; Nemechek 134; Earnhardt 135; Petty 136-217; Gordon 218-228; B.Labonte 229-230; Earnhardt 231; Petty 232-306; B.Labonte 307-321; Earnhardt 322-326; Petty 327-348; Gordon 349-381; Petty 382-429; Musgrave 430-431; B.Labonte 432; Stricklin 433-455; Earnhardt 456-458; Petty 459-500.

Series points leaders: Earnhardt 1,809; Marlin 1,709; Gordon 1,703; Martin 1,627; Musgrave 1,626; B.Labonte 1,531; R.Wallace 1,495; M.Waltrip 1,455; Hamilton 1,451; T.Labonte 1,431.

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