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Labonte wins race that ends NASCAR era

DARLINGTON, S.C. — There was at least one person at Darlington Raceway on Sunday who wasn't surprised Terry Labonte ended a 156-race winless streak with a victory in the Southern 500.

"I look at him like a fine wine, he just gets better with age," said Bobby Labonte, Terry's younger brother and fellow Winston Cup driver.

"I know the last few years have been hard on him, but he didn't lose confidence that he can do it," Bobby added. "It was just a matter of when."

The win could not have come at a better time for the elder Labonte, who gained a piece of history by winning the last Southern 500 run on Labor Day weekend.

Terry Labonte took control of the 367-lap event late in the race with a lightning fast pit stop, and went on to win the 54th running of NASCAR's oldest 500-mile race.

"I was really tired of a losing streak from hell," the winner said. "With 15 (laps) to go, it was about the longest 14 laps I've ever run. Even though you feel you still can (win), all the pieces have to come together. I'm just glad it's over."

Labonte stopped at the finish line to get the checkered flag for a victory lap that brought everyone in the record Darlington crowd of more than 65,000 to its feet.

"It's really special for me," added the two-time Winston Cup champion Labonte, who first raced here in 1978 and took the first of his 22 wins in the 1980 Southern 500. "I was running with Bill Elliott (late in the race) and thinking to myself, 'I hope one of us wins it because we appreciate this place more than some of the young guys do."

As Labonte's No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet drove slowly around the unique 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval, his crew raced across the track to climb the fence in the tradition started by open-wheel racer Helio Castroneves.

"I'm glad they did that," Labonte said. "They won this race for me."

Labonte, whose previous win came in his native Texas in March 1999, ran among the leaders all day and finally went ahead for the first time on lap 335 when his crew changed four tires and filled his Chevy with gas in 13.11 seconds during a caution-period stop.

DENVER GRAND PRIX: Winning the CART Grand Prix of Denver a second time wasn't as easy for Bruno Junqueira.

The Brazilian, who led from start to finish in last year's inaugural race, fell out of the lead for 30 laps on Sunday. Then he brushed the wall with 17 laps to go, causing him some anxious moments down the stretch.

Junqueira overtook Oriol Servia in the pits midway through the race and led the final 44 laps Sunday for his fifth career CART victory.

He held off rookie Sebastien Bourdais at the end, beating his Newman/Haas teammate by 0.335 seconds on the 1.65-mile street course.

Servia finished third, followed by Paul Tracy and Adrian Fernandez.

Starting position was critical, which benefited pole-sitter Junqueira. In CART's previous 14 races this season, the winner has started no worse than fourth, and that trend held true in Sunday's race. The only significant passing took place in the pits.

The first significant pass of the race, however, stunned Junqueira.

Starting from the pole for the second time this season and seventh time in his career, Junqueira jumped out to the lead and set the pace for the first 32 laps until the first mandatory pit stop window, when Servia squeezed past him in the pits.

Junqueira led by as much as two seconds over the early laps but couldn't shake Servia, who had a slightly faster pit stop than Junqueira and accelerated down pit lane past Junqueira just as the Brazilian was exiting his pit.