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Gordon happy with fourth

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 4, 2000


DARLINGTON, S.C. -- For Jeff Gordon, a fourth-place finish in the Southern 500 would have been considered mediocre two years ago.

But in this season of struggle, in which the three-time Winston Cup champion has had few bright spots, Gordon was elated by his team's performance Sunday at Darlington Raceway.

"This is a lot better than we've been finishing lately," said Gordon, who won four straight Southern 500s from 1995-98. "We ran in the top five all day and had some great pit stops. We just never had that killer pit stop that got us out front. But I'm not complaining, because any time you can finish a race like this and come out in the top five, you've had a pretty good day's work."

WEATHER CHANNELED: Ever the cool character, Dale Earnhardt wasn't upset about the two-hour rain delay that interrupted the race on Lap 35.

"When it rained, we went down and had a sandwich and (I) laid down in the motor home and took a nap and was ready to go again," Earnhardt said. "I felt good and rested."

Earnhardt, fourth when NASCAR stopped the race, came back and looked as if he might win for a record-tying 10th time at Darlington.

Earnhardt took the lead on Lap 182 and held it when rain brought out the sixth caution on Lap 207. He idled behind the pace car as the rain continued to sprinkle. He hoped NASCAR would call the race if the track became soaked.

The rain didn't cooperate and Earnhardt pitted before the restart. He wound up third, his 19th top 10 this season.

UPSET-MINDED: Jimmy Spencer started 12th and was as high as third before he was involved in a wreck with Brett Bodine on Lap 239.

"I guess Brett Bodine must need glasses or something," Spencer said. "He just drove off the corner there and I gave him plenty of room and he came back on the outside of me and caught me in the right-rear quarter panel and turned me in the wall.

"It was a stupid thing on his part. He took (Spencer's car) out of a top five and possibly a chance at winning the race. What goes around comes around."

Spencer finished 32nd and Bodine was 27th.

OUT FRONT, FINALLY: Veteran driver Dave Marcis, who has four career top-five finishes in the Southern 500, became the 44th driver to lead a Winston Cup race.

Winless since 1982, Marcis led his first laps of the season after he stayed on the track during a caution for rain. He also was the center of attention for his role in three wrecks, one involving then race leader Jeremy Mayfield.

Marcis took the lead on Lap 36, held it throughout a two-hour, seven-minute rain delay and relinquished it when he made a pit stop on Lap 48. Marcis also led Lap 141.

The most recent race Marcis had lead was the Napa 500 in November at Atlanta.

LAST RACE: Three-time Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip's final start at Darlington ended with engine trouble after 113 laps.

Waltrip, who was making his 800th career start, last won a Winston Cup race at the 1992 Southern 500. Sunday, he finished 42nd and led Lap 48 during a caution for rain.

"Well, I liked it when I was up front," Waltrip said. "That was fun. It kind of brought back a lot of good memories."

EARLY EXIT: Mike Skinner was the first driver out. The No. 31 Chevrolet started fourth and was in third place when his engine blew on Lap 15.

He finished 43rd.

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