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Bobby Labonte Wins MBNA 400

Bobby Labonte won the MBNA Platinum 400 thanks to a smart call by his crew chief. And Jeff Gordon was again steaming about how his team manages fuel.

Labonte, who set a Dover Downs International Speedway qualifying record, benefited from a decision Sunday by crew chief Jimmy Makar and went the final 107 laps at the Monster Mile for his first victory of the season.

Makar brought in Labonte to top off the tank of his Pontiac just before the end of the final caution period on lap 393. It was just enough to get him to the end.

"I don't like gas-mileage racing because you want to have the fastest car and run away," Labonte said. "But it was a great call by Jimmy."

The decision cost Gordon the race for the second straight year. He was forced to stop for a splash of gas with five laps remaining. Last year, he stopped with eight to go, giving the victory to Dale Jarrett.

"We've got to get this fuel tank figured out," said Gordon, whose Chevrolet finished 22.017 seconds behind Labonte. "We keep getting beat on gas mileage at this place, but we certainly proved we had the car to beat today."

But neither he nor Labonte led the most laps. Labonte's teammate, Tony Stewart, trying to become the first rookie to win a Winston Cup race since the late Davey Allison in 1987, was the star.

He showed the way for 127 laps, dominating the middle segment of the $2.3 million race before Gordon took command for the last 88. Stewart wound up fourth behind the Ford of Mark Martin.

"We keep gaining ground," Stewart said after his fourth top-five finish in the last five races. "We're not going away. That's the nice thing."

His boss, Joe Gibbs, was happy for Labonte and Stewart, but somewhat surprised by the ending.

"I thought we were going to win a few by outrunning people, but today we won it on a fuel-economy deal," he said. "We're thrilled."

Labonte, who earned $144.820 for the eighth victory of his career, said he wasn't worried about Makar's decision or the consequences had the crew chief erred on his mileage estimate.

"We're awful consistent right now, and that's the name of the game," Labonte said. "We figured the wins would come."

Bobby Labonte (green car) takes home the checkered flag.  <b>
Bobby Labonte (green car) takes home the checkered flag. (AP)

"It wouldn't have mattered if we didn't win today, because we would have gotten one down the road."

Labonte, who qualified at 159.320 mph, lost the lead to Martin after just four laps. Martin, the winner of Dover's fall race each of the last two years, dominaed the first 100 miles, but was no match for Stewart and Gordon thereafter.

"I don't think we got that much worse," said Martin, who finished a lap down. "I think the other guys just got that much better."

Series leader Jarrett was fifth in his Ford, and picked up 18 points on Jeff Burton. He wound up eighth, and trails Jarrett by 51 points.

Rusty Wallace was sixth, followed by Johnny Benson. Jeremy Mayfield finished ninth, just ahead of Kenny Irwin.

Labonte averaged 120.628 mph in a race slowed by four caution flags covering 31 laps. There were 15 lead changes among seven drivers.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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