DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Jarrett didn't drive into Victory Lane Saturday night after the Pepsi 400. His Ford Taurus, so fast for 400 miles under the lights at the Daytona International Speedway, had enough gas to make it across the finish line, but not much more.
His team made a gamble on a gas-only stop with 15 laps to go, and it took some lucky twists to make it pay off. A couple of cautions down the stretch, including one with two laps to go, allowed Jarrett to conserve every precious drop of fuel and win under caution.
By running at half-speed during the last two laps, Jarrett was able to keep his engine running to the checkered flag. Less than a mile past the finish line, however, the car sputtered and stalled along the backstretch.
"I ran out right after taking the checkered flag," Jarrett said. "I think we could have made it. When I was out front, I could kind of dictate what was going on. Man, we cut it close, though. We had to take a chance. It was a gamble, that's all."
The top 10 cars stopped together on the 146th lap. Jarrett came onto pit road in second place behind Rusty Wallace, and his crew dumped about 11 gallons of gas into the tank in less than three seconds. The stop got Jarrett back on the track with the lead, and he never surrendered his advantage until he ran out of gas on the cool-down lap.
The second caution also cut short Dale Earnhardt's plan for a late-race charge. His final stop not only included gas, but two new tires that gave him better traction during the stretch drive. The final caution caught Earnhardt by surprise, and it didn't allow him the opportunity to challenge Jarrett for the win.
"I think we had something for him," Earnhardt said after posting his sixth career second-place finish at Daytona. "We took on two new tires, and that made a big difference. We caught that one caution (for debris with 13 laps remaining) and that was lucky. We were unlucky to catch that second caution."
The final caution came when Jeremy Mayfield spun out in the fourth turn. The spin forced Wally Dallenbach, Elliott Sadler, Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Spencer into the wall or through the infield grass. None of the drivers were hurt.
Without a final dash, the finishing order merely followed each other while the checkered and yellow flags waved.
Jeff Burton wound up third, followed by Mike Skinner in fourth, Bobby Labonte in fifth, Tony Stewart in sixth, Ward Burton in seventh, Bobby Hamilton in eighth and Ernie Irvan in ninth.
The first half of the race had everything that typifies restrictor-plate racing -- except a big wreck.
Traffic was thick, the lead juggled between a handful of drivers, and the lead pack often had as many as 30 cars fighting for position.
Mark Martin was scheduled to start third, but a crash late in the final practice session Friday left him with a broken wrist and a race car that was more fit for the junk yard than a 400-mile race.
By going to a backup car, Martin was forced to the 43rd starting position. Although he carved through traffic without trouble in the first 10 laps, he never managed to make it back into the top 15.
At the same time, Jeff Burton and Terry Labonte, who started 37th and 38th, respectively, both made a charge into the top 10 by the 200-mile mark, while pole-sitter Joe Nemechek quickly lost his advantage and faded to the middle of the pack.
The first caution came out on the 82nd lap when NASCAR spotted a few raindrops in the third turn. The yellow flag only lasted a couple laps and the restart merely allowed the field to resume their relentless charge around the 2.5-mile raceway.
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