DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt, drivers who finished second and third, respectively, in Sunday's Mall.com 400 at the Darlington Raceway, said the most-pressing issue at the oldest superspeedway on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule isn't competitive, but pavement.
"What this place needs most is asphalt," Earnhardt said. "The track is wore out. It was a day of saving your tires and biding your time. I never got a chance to really race. If we had a caution with 10 to go and I could put on some tires, then we could have race them."
Jarrett said his car lost grip on the front and rear wheels midway into a 60-lap run.
"The place is wore out," he said. "It makes it difficult when the front end is sliding around and the back end starts sliding around. This place is hard enough. When you add worn out pavement, it makes it even tougher."
The 51-year-old raceway, a 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval that was to accommodate top speeds of about 70 mph, was last re-paved in 1996. Winner Ward Burton's average speed for 400 miles was 128.076 mph.
LABONTE MAINTAINS LEAD:
Although Bobby Labonte threw away a top-five finish by missing the entrance to pit road on the final stop of the race, he held onto first place in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series points lead.
Labonte, who finished second to Jarrett in the points race a year ago, finished 13th, a lap down, and now as 794 points.
Second place Mark Martin, who was ninth at Darlington on Sunday, has 785 points, followed by Dale Earnhardt in third with 762.
Bill Elliott was the biggest loser among the top-10 drivers going into the race, dropping three spots in the standings after finishing 19th in the race.
There were three crashes in the first 19 laps, sending a group of cars to the garage for repairs.
On the second lap, Sterling Marlin hit his brakes and Steve Park slide into Joe Nemechek to avoid rear-ending him. That sent Nemechek into the wall and Ken Schrader and Terry Labonte spinning to avoid the melee.
On the eighth lap, Rusty Wallace hit Kenny Irwin on the backstretch, sending Irwin into the wall and collecting Jeremy Mayfield and Jerry Nadeau in the process.
Then on the 17th lap, Ted Musgrave blew a right-front tire and slammed into the third turn wall.
"You just get in line and ride and race the race track," a dejected Nemechek said. "These guys are being idiots out there today. That was the second lap. People just aren't using their heads."
Nobody was injured.
The next race is Sunday at the Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The half-mile track has 147,000 seats -- all sold -- and it will be the first of six short track races of the season.
Recent testing revealed the new tire from the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. likely will produce track record speeds. In fact, if the recent test sessions are any indication, all 43 cars will need to surpass the 125.142 mph track record just to make the field.
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