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Earnhardt rides good fortune to victory in Goody's 300

From a distance it looked like a junkyard, complete with everything but the dog. Wrecks and wreckers were strewn about. In the middle of the mess, Darrell Waltrip, whose luck had started bad and gone worse. In front of the mess, Dale Earnhardt, whose luck started good and just got better.

While Waltrip's trip Saturday around Daytona International Speedway was tainted by a balky engine and then ruined in a 23-car pileup, Earnhardt parlayed a later caution flag and some caution of his own into victory in the Goody's 300-mile Grand National stock car race.

It was the second victory of Speed Weeks for Earnhardt, who won one of Thursday's Twin-125s, the qualifying races for today's Daytona 500.

If timing is everything, Earnhardt had it for the first and last of the four caution flags in the 120-lap race.

First, he was at the front of the pack when the back half became a mess of slewing, smoking, crashing cars.

And last, after his Chevrolet had been black-flagged off the track for leaking oil and had fallen a lap back, he struggled back into the lead lap just as the yellow flag came out at the end of the 69th lap.

On the 54th lap, Earnhardt pitted for 23 seconds, his crew simply cut the belt that drove the oil pump that drove the rear cooling system, and out he went. As Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Harry Gant and the other leaders fell in behind the pace car, crawling along at 70 mph, Earnhardt sprinted around the track at better than double that speed until he caught the rear of the line. He was 10th. Within 10 laps, he was fourth, and on the 100th lap, Earnhardt regained the lead.

He lost the lead to Gant at the 108th lap but regained it for good on the 112th lap, beating Gant to the finish by 1{ lengths.

Waltrip's luck was sour even before the race. He blew his engine in Friday's final practice. The new engine never performed properly. Waltrip started on the pole but was ninth and fading within 10 laps.

"I didn't want to be that far back," he said. "When you find yourself that far back, you know something like this can happen."

What happened was on the 14th lap, Brad Teague's Oldsmobile got loose going into turn 4 and tapped Jarrett's Pontiac. Jarrett maintained control but Teague spun and was hit by several cars. One by one, the cars plowed into each other, the whole mess coming to rest in the grass beyond the turn, Waltrip's among them. It took 20 minutes to clear the debris before the race could resume at full speed.

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