Points race tightens after Marlin, Gordon exit Winston Cup race early.
September 8, 2002
RICHMOND, Va. -- Matt Kenseth rallied to get laps back twice in the early going and dominated Saturday night, outrunning everyone to win the Monte Carlo 400 for his Winston Cup series-high fourth victory of the year.
Kenseth twice fell behind in the first 100 laps, but his Ford was strongest during two periods of long green-flag runs, and the 120 caution-free laps to end it allowed him to show his domination.
"It was just really fast the whole time we've been here," he said. "It would work high and it would work low and before a lot of guys got to the high line, I went out there and was able to pass."
The race further jumbled the tight points race when series leader Sterling Marlin crashed on his ninth lap, second-place Jeff Gordon had to park with valve train problems and Mark Martin was sixth.
Martin trails Marlin by nine points, with Jimmie Johnson 72 back, Gordon 82 back and Tony Stewart 118 behind.
Kenseth's fifth Winston Cup victory helped him climb two spots to eighth, 248 back.
Ryan Newman finished second after teammate Rusty Wallace had trouble with 11 laps to go. Jeff Green was third.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. also rallied from a lap down to finish fourth, followed by Todd Bodine, Martin and Ricky Rudd.
After a prerace tribute to the victims and heroes of Sept. 11, the race began as a showcase of super rookies Johnson and Ryan Newman, the first rookies to sweep the front row in NASCAR's modern era.
Newman was the class of the field early, taking the lead on Lap 2 and holding it for 142 until Stewart passed him.
The race had an on-again, off-again flavor, with the first 100 laps and the third 100 laps marred by frequent cautions, and the second and fourth segments featuring green-flag runs that showcased the best cars.
Stewart seemed capable of winning for the fourth time in eight career starts at Richmond, but Kenseth and Newman rose to the top, pulling away from the rest of the field and easily lapping cars.
That was especially true for Kenseth, who eventually left Newman in the distance after passing him for the lead with 107 laps left.
Marlin's race didn't last long as he, teammate Jimmy Spencer and Jeff Burton crashed early. All three cars headed to the garage, and Marlin went to the infield care center for treatment.
"I'm not sure what happened. I saw Jimmy spin and I tried to miss him, but we got together," Marlin said. "We've got 10 races left, and I guess it's going to be really tight."
Marlin's misfortune seemed like a golden opportunity for four-time champion Gordon to close his 91-point deficit, but he brought his Chevrolet to the garage only a few laps later.
"This weekend hasn't been real good luck for us," said Gordon, who returned more than 150 laps down and eventually parked. That stopped his modern-day record of consecutive races running at the end at 56.