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Pressley nearly wins

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000

Robert Pressley has now gone 150 races without a Winston Cup win.

But for five laps in the rain-shortened Kmart 400 on Sunday at Michigan Speedway, the driver of the No. 77 Ford looked like he might become the series' 13th different winner this season.

Pressley's team took a gamble during a caution period on Lap178, and it nearly worked.

While most of the lead cars took four tires during pit stops, Pressley's crew chief Ryan Pemberton opted for two. The faster stop allowed Pressley to get off pit road ahead of everybody as it began raining.

"Was I wanting the rain to come down? You better believe it," Pressley said. "I kept telling my crew it was really coming down even though it was just sprinkling."

Pressley inherited the lead on Lap180 and held it for five laps until Tony Stewart passed him. Stewart won the race, his second straight, when rain ended the event six laps shy of the scheduled finish. Pressley dropped to fifth place.

"It isn't as good as third at Texas, but this is pretty good," said Pressley, who last finished in the top five in April 1998 at Texas Motor Speedway. "Man, if we could have just had that rain 10 minutes earlier.

"The disappointment, it hasn't really set in because a top five is what we had today. We didn't have a winning race car. It's going to hit probably (Monday) we could have won this race if Mother Nature had been 10 minutes faster."

TOUGH LUCK: Jeremy Mayfield looked like a lock to win the Kmart 400 until rain, a pit road blunder and a blown engine ended his day. The driver of the No. 12 Ford led 85 of 194 laps. He was in the lead when rain red-flagged the race for 93 minutes on Lap151.

When NASCAR allowed the cars back onto the track and the leaders made pit stops, Mayfield's gas man kicked the right rear tire out of the pit box and onto pit road -- a violation of NASCAR's rules. Mayfield was sent from third to the back of the lead pack upon restart of the race. He was in sixth place when his car slowed with an engine problem on Lap 177 to finish 41st.

"We just weren't able to close the deal," Mayfield said. "I don't think there is any doubt (my car) was the dominant car at that race track. Things didn't end the way we had hoped, but I think it was one more sign of what this team is capable of doing.

RACE REPLAY: While the Casino Magic 500 boasted the closest finish ever in an Indy Racing event, those watching the race live on television missed Scott Sharp beating Robby McGehee by 0.59 seconds to the finish line.

With seven laps remaining, ESPN2, which was carrying the race, went off the air because of a thunderstorm at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn. When service was restored later, the race was over but ESPN2 showed highlights, including the finish.

ESPN will replay the Casino Magic 500 in its entirety at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

"It was unfortunate the fans that were watching the race, one of the most exciting races of the season not only in our series, were deprived of seeing a great finish," Indy Racing spokesman Ron Green said. "Nothing or no one could be blamed. but the timing was not good."

ON THE PROWL: Without much fanfare or hype, Dale Earnhardt is in a position to make a run at an unprecedented eighth Winston Cup championship.

He finished second behind Stewart in the Kmart 400 and moved into second place in the Winston Cup points standings. He is 98 points behind leader Bobby Labonte with 20 races remaining.

Earnhardt, 49, and Richard Petty are tied with seven series championships. Earnhardt's last title came in 1994.

ROBINSON RELEASED: Driver Shawna Robinson, who was involved in an accident during the Automobile Racing Club of America event on Saturday at Michigan Speedway, was released from a Ypsilanti, Mich., hospital Sunday morning.

Robinson broke three ribs when she spun and hit the fourth-turn wall on Lap 83.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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