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Jarrett cruises to Bud Shootout victory

By Mike Harris

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Already assured the pole, Dale Jarrett strengthened his position as the Daytona 500 favorite by winning the Bud Shootout on Sunday.

After overpowering 54 other drivers Saturday in winning the top qualifying spot for next Sunday's season-opening Winston Cup event, Jarrett showed the handling on his Robert Yates Racing Ford was as intimidating as its horsepower.

Each of Sunday's races included a mandatory pit stop with a two-tire change, and Jarrett's five new crewmen from Jeff Gordon's elite Rainbow Warriors showed they were fast and flawless.

The pit stop in the qualifying race moved Jarrett past Ricky Craven into first place and he sped away to win by just over five seconds -- nearly half a straightaway on the 2 1/2-mile Daytona International Speedway oval.

That earned the defending series champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner the chance to start last in the 15-car main event.

When the rest of the drivers drove onto pit road at the end of lap 10, Jarrett and Bobby Labonte remained on the track.

"You have to slow down considerably to pit with all that traffic," Jarrett said. "We figured if we waited and the two of us came in together, we could get in and out quicker and draft together to get back to speed."

The strategy worked perfectly.

After the shuffling, Sterling Marlin was in front and Jarrett was third, just behind new teammate Ricky Rudd and just ahead of defending Daytona winner Gordon, who had led until the pit stops.

Two laps from the end, Jarrett moved alongside Rudd on the backstretch. As the two Fords remained side-by-side, Gordon made a move on the front straightaway, racing around Jarrett at the top of the banking before diving almost to the infield grass to move into second before the first turn.

The scramble on the final lap was a classic, with the Chevrolets of Gordon and Marlin getting side-by-side. Jarrett, with help from Labonte, took the outside line and shot into the lead coming off turn four.

He beat Gordon to the finish by .261-seconds -- about 3 car-lengths. Jarrett averaged 182.334 mph.

"I said, 'The car's working good on the outside, so let's give this a try,'" Jarrett said. "If it doesn't work, we're not going to lose any points."'

There were no caution flags in the race, but the finish was marred by a wild crash that began when Marlin banged into Labonte as they neared the line. Labonte got sideways in front of Rudd, whose car hit the wall and was then pinched by Kenny Schrader's car. The Ford sailed into the air and wound up sliding down the front straightaway on its roof.

Rudd was not injured.

Marlin's Chevy was third, followed by Tony Stewart in a Pontiac, Kevin Lepage in a Ford, Schrader in a Grand Prix and Rusty Wallace in a Tauras.

Mark Martin, who got the Shootout pole in a blind draw, wound up last, completing only 10 laps.

Martin, slid into his jackman as he made his pit stop. The crewman, Mike Ehret, came away with only a bruised leg.

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