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Fast start, bad finish for Dodge

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 23, 2001


TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Of the Dodge drivers who swept the top three starting positions for the Talladega 500 -- Stacy Compton, Sterling Marlin and Bill Elliott -- none was in contention at the end Sunday.

"We'll get our win," Lou Patane, director of Dodge Motorsports operations, said afterward. "We just have to wait our turn I guess."

Dodge returned to Winston Cup this season after a 16-year hiatus and has had marginal success with its Intrepids. The manufacturer's 10 drivers have earned two poles, four top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.

"We continue to develop," Patane said. "Every race we continue to get better. I think people saw that there was clearly an opportunity to win this weekend. We just didn't capitalize."

Marlin led the most laps (51) but finished 23rd. He led until Tony Stewart passed him on Lap 162 of 188.

"We just got boxed in the back at the end and there was nowhere to go," Marlin said.

Compton, who scored his first career pole Friday, finished last when an engine problem sidelined him after 116 laps. Elliott started third and finished 32nd. Buckshot Jones (19th) had the best Dodge finish.

"I think we continue to show that the Dodges are competitive," Patane said. "We've worked hard on our speedway program and we're going to continue to do that."

TOP ROOKIE: With five laps remaining and Stewart's orange Pontiac in front of him, rookie Kurt Busch was seeing red.

"I remembered a couple of words Tony Stewart had said about me," said Busch, second to Stewart at the time. "I thought to myself, 'Well, I hope I can hang with you and I hope I can help you out and then I hope I can burn you at the end.' "

He didn't get a chance because winner Bobby Hamilton passed both of them with two laps to go. But Busch did register a career-best finish (third).

It marked the second time this season he was the top rookie.

ALMOST PERFECT: Joe Gibbs Racing nearly pulled off a weekend sweep at Talladega.

Mike McLaughlin won the Busch Grand National event and Bobby Labonte won the IROC race on Saturday. Stewart finished second and Labonte fifth Sunday.

"We had a real good weekend here, really," Gibbs said. "I'm excited. You can't do a whole lot better than that."

CRITICAL MISTAKE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. tailed teammate Steve Park in the final laps, thinking Park might help get him to the front.

Earnhardt Jr., ninth with five laps to go, apparently was unaware Park was a lap down.

"Once I found that out I just went up there and did the best I could," said Earnhardt Jr., who finished eighth and gained seven spots in the points standings to 12th. "If I had not been waiting around behind Steve, ain't no telling what would've happened."

ODDS AND ENDS: Joe Nemechek's sixth was the Lakeland native's first top 10 of the season but second straight at Talladega. ... Spotted in the garage before the race: former major-league pitcher Ben McDonald, Alabama lead singer Randy Owen, a friend of Dale Earnhardt, and tennis pro Todd Martin.

Gearhead stats

TIME OF RACE: 2 hours, 43 minutes, 4 seconds.

MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.163 seconds.

CAUTION FLAGS: None.

LEAD CHANGES: 37 among 26 drivers.

LAP LEADERS: S.Compton 1-2; S.Marlin 3-32; J.Nadeau 33; M.Skinner 34-41; J.Gordon 42-47; K.Schrader 48-49; M.Kenseth 50; E.Sadler 51-53; B.Elliott 54-55; Gordon 56-58; R.Hornaday Jr 59-60; W.Burton 61; A.Houston 62; W.Burton 63-65; Gordon 66-68; J.Nemechek 69-76; T.Bodine 77; K.Busch 78; B.Hamilton 79; Busch 80; Kenseth 81-90; M.Waltrip 91; Marlin 92-95; D.Earnhardt Jr 96-99; R.Craven 100; M.Martin 101; R.Wallace 102-104; Earnhardt Jr 105-133; Marlin 134-145; Martin 146-149; R.Rudd 150-151; R.Pressley 152; B.Labonte 153; T.Stewart 154; J.Burton 155-156; Marlin 157-161; Stewart 162-186; Hamilton 187-188.

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