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Nemechek triumphs at Richmond

THE BALTIMORE SUN

RICHMOND, Va. - Joe Nemechek had never finished better than sixth here at Richmond International Raceway, but last night he won the Pontiac Excitement 400.

Avoiding all the debris from a record 15 caution flags, Nemechek was in the right place at the right time to earn his third career victory.

Though 11 different drivers were able to take the lead at one time or another, it was Nemechek who was in the lead after the first lap and at the end of Lap 393 when NASCAR red-flagged the race due to rain.

When the result was made official 10 minutes later, Nemechek had his first victory since 2001 in his No. 25 Chevrolet.

"I tell you what," said Nemechek, who averaged 86.783 mph and won $159,375. "It was an unbelievable night. I had an awesome engine. The chassis was right. My crew made great calls and had great pit stops."

Bobby Labonte finished second for the third race in a row, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third.

Winston Cup points leader Matt Kenseth had an adventurous night, hitting a wall, tangling with Casey Mears and losing a lap. But he still managed a seventh-place finish to maintain a 20-point lead over Earnhardt in the Winston Cup title chase.

"I'm pretty happy," Earnhardt said. "Matt [Kenseth] came up and got a pretty good finish. I'm half as close as I was before the race, so that's good. But Matt is a great race car driver and I think it's going to be hard to make up a lot of ground on him.

"But we raced a lot tonight and got a good finish, too. I almost crashed a time or two. It was fun and I was glad to get third."

Accidents have been abundant at this three-quarter mile track this weekend. On Friday night, there was a record number of them in the Busch Series race and late Friday afternoon Winston Cup driver Jerry Nadeau sustained a terrible blow in a crash during a practice session.

Nadeau remains in critical condition at Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia.

According to NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter, Nadeau is in intensive care and continues to be treated for head, lung and rib injuries.

"Jerry's vital signs are very good," said Jay Frye, general manager for Nadeau's MB2 Motorsports team. "His evaluation is ongoing. The hospital has been phenomenal - everything they've done. I saw him twice yesterday and I saw him this morning. He looks great. I'm not a doctor. ... but once I went in to see him and left, it made a world of difference to me."

Last night, Nadeau's Chevrolet was driven by substitute Jason Keller, a Busch Series driver. It was Keller's first Winston Cup race. He finished 32nd.

Pole-sitter Terry Labonte led the cars to the starting line, but less than a lap later, Nemechek had taken the lead from him and was on his way to the delight of many in the sellout crowd of 105,000.

Bobby Labonte led from Lap 145 to 204, but once he got shuffled back during a series of pit stops, he couldn't get all the way back to the front.

"The groove on the bottom of the track was loose and the middle was really good and everyone, 75 percent of us, were all running the same speed. That meant you had to be patient and wait for someone to make a mistake."

A lot of drivers, evidently, were impatient given the number of accidents. But Labonte said he had nothing for Nemechek even if the last seven laps had been run.

"Unless he slipped, I wasn't going to do anything with Joe and he wasn't making many mistakes tonight," Labonte said. "His car was a little bit better than mine."

At Richmond, Va.

1. (2) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 393, $159,375.

2. (4) Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet, 393, $157,758.

3. (3) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 393, $121,867.

4. (32) Robby Gordon, Chevrolet, 393, $101,212.

5. (30) Mark Martin, Ford, 393, $102,533.

6. (36) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 393, $100,928.

7. (18) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 393, $73,675.

8. (7) Kurt Busch, Ford, 393, $89,925.

9. (16) Jeff Burton, Ford, 393, $90,342.

10. (17) Rusty Wallace, Dodge, 393, $91,942.

11. (20) Ward Burton, Dodge, 393, $90,781.

12. (37) Michael Waltrip, Chevrolet, 393, $69,910.

13. (21) Sterling Marlin, Dodge, 393, $95,425.

14. (35) Tony Raines, Chevrolet, 393, $51,325.

15. (13) Johnny Benson, Pontiac, 393, $82,435.

16. (6) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 393, $97,228.

17. (15) Greg Biffle, Ford, 393, $49,150.

18. (31) Dave Blaney, Ford, 393, $76,000.

19. (10) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 393, $68,275.

20. (28) Bill Elliott, Dodge, 393, $89,058.

21. (1) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 393, $83,456.

22. (22) Jamie McMurray, Dodge, 393, $47,975.

23. (34) Todd Bodine, Ford, 393, $65,375.

24. (33) Ken Schrader, Dodge, 392, $58,100.

25. (19) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 392, $59,050.

26. (29) Jack Sprague, Pontiac, 392, $47,725.

27. (8) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 391, $58,700.

28. (11) Casey Mears, Dodge, 391, $66,864.

29. (14) Kenny Wallace, Dodge, 390, crash, $50,250.

30. (24) John Andretti, Dodge, 390, $86,253.

31. (43) Brett Bodine, Ford, 389, $49,825.

32. (12) Jason Keller, Pontiac, 388, $49,675.

33. (42) Larry Foyt, Dodge, 387, $49,625.

34. (27) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 378, crash, $57,075.

35. (26) Mike Skinner, Pontiac, 378, crash, $47,425.

36. (40) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 363, crash, $92,253.

37. (39) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 338, $80,675.

38. (38) Ricky Craven, Pontiac, 287, crash, $54,375.

39. (5) Ryan Newman, Dodge, 277, $76,185.

40. (41) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 267, crash, $54,230.

41. (9) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 223, crash, $98,748.

42. (25) Jimmy Spencer, Dodge, 139, crash, $46,110.

43. (23) Steve Park, Chevrolet, 42, crash, $71,502.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 87.134 mph. Caution Flags: 15 for 91 laps. Lead Changes: 20 among 11 drivers. Lap Leaders: T. Labonte 0; J. Nemechek 1-2; T. Labonte 3; J. Nemechek 4-45; T. Labonte 46-74; R. Newman 75-98; J. Nemechek 99-120; K. Busch 121-128; J. Nemechek 129; K. Busch 130-139; D. Earnhardt Jr 140-144; B. Labonte 145-204; J. Nemechek 205-228; J. Gordon 229-260; M. Martin 261-270; J. Gordon 271-280; B. Elliott 281-286; K. Harvick 287-298; B. Labonte 299-300; R. Gordon 301-329; J. Nemechek 330-393. Top 10 in Points: M. Kenseth - 1,619; D. Earnhardt Jr - 1,599; K. Busch - 1,452; J. Gordon - 1,441; B. Labonte - 1,376; J. Johnson - 1,372; M. Waltrip - 1,361; K. Harvick - 1,328; R. Wallace - 1,274; S. Marlin - 1,259.

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