Although it wasn't the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt will take it.
A Sunday after extending Earnhardt's record to 0-for-18 in the Daytona 500, Dale Jarrett was unable to hold off the seven-time Winston Cup champion in the Goodwrench Service 400."We want to make every race count and not miss a beat," Earnhardt said. "If we can be in the top two all year long, it would definitely be good for the championship."
The reversal of the season-opening Daytona finish left the drivers tied with 355 points, a position from which Earnhardt hopes to vault to an unprecedented eighth driving title.
"I'm going to race whoever's there to race, and he looks like the strongest one out there right now," Earnhardt said of Jarrett.
Earnhardt, running second to Jarrett, passed him late in the race at the North Carolina Motor Speedway and stayed in front the rest of the way. Earnhardt took the checkered flag under caution for the 69th victory of his Winston Cup career.
The caution, caused when Bobby Hillin Jr. hit the wall, came out with just two laps remaining at the 1.017-mile oval.
Earnhardt and Jarrett swapped leads late in the race, but it was Earnhardt who made the biggest move. He drove his Chevrolet Monte Carlo under Jarrett's Ford Thunderbird 15 laps from the end for his third Rockingham victory.
"You've got to really pace yourself at this race track because of the tire wear, but I was really going for it there at the end," said the 44-year-old Earnhardt. "Jarrett was getting stronger every pit stop."
But Earnhardt got some unexpected help.
"I thought I had a shot there, but I got raced hard by a lapped car (Derrike Cope) and burned my tires up," Jarrett said.
Earnhardt, who collected $83,840, averaged 113.959 mph.
Ricky Craven, the 1995 Rookie of the Year, finished a career-best third, followed by Ricky Rudd, Steve Grissom, Sterling Marlin and Kenny Wallace. They were the only other drivers on the lead lap.
The first part of the race, shortened this year from 500 miles to 400, was virtually incident free.
The relative quiet ended on lap 97, however. Ward Burton, a winner last fall at Rockingham, who was about to be lapped by leader Terry Labonte, skidded sideways and backed hard into the outside wall in turn one.
On lap 108, Dave Marcis and Hut Stricklin got together in turn three, triggering an eight-car melee. Damaged were the cars of rookie Johnny Benson, Ted Musgrave, Rick Mast, Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott and Loy Allen Jr.
Allen was later involved in the worst accident of the day, and was knocked unconscious. But the 29-year-old driver regained consciousness after safety workers reached his battered car.
He was transported by helicopter to Carolina Medical Center in Charlotte, where X-rays revealed a broken his right shoulder blade.
He was injured when his Thunderbird slid hard into the concrete wall near the end of the main straightaway. In the ensuing action, Bobby Labonte was tapped from behind when he braked to avoid Allen, and hit the wall in turn one.
The race was halted for more than 9 minutes while Allen was extricated from his car. Safety workers removed the windshield and cut away the roof to free him.
It turned out to be a terrible day for the three-car Hendrick Motorsports team that began the race with high hopes.
Jeff Gordon, the defending race winner and 1995 Winston Cup champion, had his second straight disappointing race. After finishing 42nd in the 43-car Daytona 500, Gordon started Sunday's race on the outside of the front row and was running fifth when smoke burst from his Chevy on the 126th of 393 laps.