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Jarrett's experience trumps youth in N.C.

Tire conservation helps veteran pass Kurt Busch in final laps for Subway 400 victory.

©Associated Press

February 24, 2003

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Dale Jarrett has no problem with NASCAR's "young guns" getting all the attention. Especially when he keeps them out of Victory Lane.

Jarrett scored one for the old drivers Sunday, outfoxing Kurt Busch during the final laps to win the Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway.

Jarrett, using veteran moves to slice his way through traffic and years of experience to save his tires, played a back-and-forth passing game with Busch, a third-year driver still trying to get a grasp on how to race with graybeards.

"Those guys are very talented, and all the press they are getting is well deserved because they do a great job -- but this one is for the older generation," Jarrett said. "I think it shows that we're still ready to battle."

It was Jarrett's second win at Rockingham and the first Winston Cup victory for new crew chief Brad Parrott.

It also made the veterans 2-for-2 this season following 39-year-old Michael Waltrip's Daytona 500 win.

"Michael won last week, and he's kind of in that middle ground -- he's not the young spring chicken and he's not up to the older guys yet," Jarrett said. "So we're giving them a race and I think that we can. I'm 46 years old, and I can hang with them at any track that we go to."

He needed crafty moves during the final 10 laps to send Busch to his second straight runner-up finish.

Busch had the strongest car late in the race, leading 150 laps with few challenges from the rest of the field.

But Jarrett passed him 10 laps from the finish by first pinning him against the wall, then using lapped traffic to box him in and slide past.

Busch regained the lead with five laps to go, passing Jarrett after a side-by-side duel.

Jarrett, conserving his tires while Busch burned rubber trying to keep the lead, went by him one more time and led the final three laps for his 31st career victory.

"I'm real proud of the way Dale Jarrett and I raced," Busch said. "If that doesn't get you pumped, I don't know what to do. I don't know what we need to do to get to Victory Lane, but we'll get there."

The 24-year-old Busch, who closed last season with three wins in the final five races, emerged as the early favorite for the Winston Cup championship. He has a 31-point lead over Jarrett in the standings going into Sunday's race in Las Vegas, his hometown.

"Kurt has a good feel for the car and knows what he wants," Jarrett said. "He will drive a car harder than anybody else out here, but he's not out of control doing it."

Matt Kenseth, who won this race last year, was third to give Roush Racing second- and third-place finishes and a Ford sweep of the top three spots.

Ricky Craven was fourth in a Pontiac, and rookie Jamie McMurray finished fifth in a Dodge.

Rusty Wallace, making his 600th career start, led a race-high 182 laps early but faded, finishing sixth. Roush driver Mark Martin was seventh, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Elliott Sadler -- Jarrett's new teammate -- and pole-sitter Dave Blaney.

The Chevrolets were expected to be strong Sunday after winning every race at Daytona, but Johnson's eighth-place finish was the best showing for the Monte Carlos.

Bobby Labonte was racing for the win late but gambled on fuel strategy and had to give up the third position to stop for gas with less than 10 laps to go. He ended up 16th.

Poor weather all weekend meant almost no track time for the teams -- they had just one hour of practice before Friday's qualifying and rain washed out all action on Saturday.

So teams had to gamble with setups on a cold and windy day that created ever-changing track conditions. But the racing was still very good with 21 lead changes among 11 different drivers.

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