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Labonte avoids crash to win DieHard 500

Terry Labonte, helped by a wild 21-car crash that eliminated a dozen top contenders, posted his first victory of the season, taking Sunday's DieHard 500.

The defending Winston Cup champion, who had fallen to sixth in the season points with a second-half slump, passed leader Kenny Schrader and second-place John Andretti two laps from the end and went on to beat younger brother Bobby Labonte by less than two car lengths.It was the 19th victory of Labonte's career, but his first since the race at Charlotte on Oct. 6, 1996.

"This lets us end the season on a high note because we're already thinking about next year," Labonte said.

"At a track like this, you just have to be patient. We were hanging back in about 25th place, and we wanted to wait it out. We figured something eventually would happen."

A byproduct of the huge crash on the backstretch of Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR's longest and fastest oval, was a tightening of the Winston Cup championship chase with only three races remaining.

Series leader Jeff Gordon, runner-up Mark Martin and third-place Dale Jarrett all were part of the crash on lap 139 of the 188-lap race. All three were running at the end with badly damaged cars, but Martin and Jarrett each gained valuable ground on Gordon.