Randy LaJoie, the defending series champion, fought off a determined bid from Jeff Burton with a spectacular last-lap move to win Saturday's Diamond Hill Plywood 200 Busch Grand National Series race.
LaJoie, who won the season-opening race at Daytona, didn't lead until the second half of the 147-lap race on Darlington International Raceway's 1.316-mile oval. Once he got the lead, though, LaJoie took control, staying out front from Lap 94 to the end, with the exception of one, heart-thumping, 200-yard stretch on the last lap.
Two late caution flags gave Burton the opportunity to put pressure on LaJoie.
On the last lap, Burton drove his Ford to the low side of the banking on the back straightaway and charged past LaJoie's Chevy to take the lead. But, as the two drove hard into the third turn, momentum carried Burton up the track and LaJoie was able to race back by and hold Burton off by less than two car lengths at the finish line.
"I learned that move sitting on the couch, watching those guys on TV," LaJoie said. "I've always wanted to try it, and that was my chance. I knew in Turn 3 it was my only hope."
Burton, a Winston Cup regular and a part-time driver in the Busch Series, said: "I made a good move off Turn 2 to get by him, but he made a better move on me in 3."
Dick Trickle was a close third, followed by Mark Martin, whose personal three-race BGN winning string was snapped. Martin, Burton's Roush Racing teammate, challenged LaJoie for the lead, the last time on Lap 120, when he drove low coming off Turn 4.
Instead of getting out front, though, Martin lost ground, falling all the way from second to fourth, and was never in contention again.
"The car was off," Martin said unhappily. "We ran fourth with it, and that was all we had."
"We finally beat Mark Martin, and he sends his darn teammate after us," LaJoie said. "It feels good to beat those Roush guys. It's hard to do."
The victory was the seventh for LaJoie, all coming since the beginning of the 1996 season. The winner earned $36,975 as he averaged 115.569 mph in the race slowed by seven caution flags for 35 laps.
There were no major accidents and no injuries reported.
TRANSOUTH 400: Only four drivers made qualifying attempts in the second round of time trials, and none made the lineup with their speed.
Steve Grissom and Billy Standridge improved on their Friday laps at the Darlington raceway but fell short of making the top 38. Rick Mast and Dick Trickle went slower than their first-round laps.
Seventeen other drivers, including seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, stood on their first-day laps. Those who qualified 26th through 38th stayed in those positions. Bobby Hamilton, Ward Burton, Darrell Waltrip and Mast were added as provisional starters based on car-owner points, and Earnhardt took the final spot, with the former series champion provisional.
Grissom, coming back from a crash two weeks ago at Atlanta, Trickle and Standridge failed to make the lineup.