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Tale of brothers grim?

Bobby Labonte might not be calling his big brother any time soon, at least not without making another phone call first _ to see if it's safe.

Labonte steered his No.

18 Pontiac past older brother Terry to win the DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, proving once again that all's fair in brotherhood and stock car racing.

"I wanted to win just as bad as he did," said Bobby, who got much-needed drafting help from Ford driver Jimmy Spencer to overtake Terry's No.

5 Chevrolet with two laps to go. "If the roles were reversed, I'm sure the same would have happened."

Probably so.

But, just in case, Bobby plans to call his father, Bob Labonte, to determine whether Terry is angry. The brothers did not speak after the race, and Terry left the track without talking to the media.

"I'll call my dad first and go down the chain of command," said Bobby, whose $141,870 paycheck included a $7,600 bonus for winning from the pole. "If (Terry) isn't happy, I'll know not to call him."

Spencer, unable to get around Bobby Labonte's blocking maneuvers in the last lap, finished second. Dale Jarrett was third, Terry Labonte fourth and Jeff Gordon fifth.

Talladega's 2.66-mile oval _ scene of many serious, multi-car accidents since the advent of restrictor plates in 1987 _ proved treacherous once again as a grisly pileup halted the race for 27 minutes.

Exiting the frontstretch tri-oval in Lap 142, Ward Burton made contact from behind with Dale Earnhardt, who spun across the track into Bill Elliott. Twenty cars got caught up in the melee.

Elliott bore the worst of it. His No. 94 Ford slammed into the outside wall, skidded down the track and tipped onto the driver's side. Flames shot from the engine compartment as Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevrolet skidded along behind.

Two years ago, Earnhardt broke his collarbone and Elliott a hip in separate Talladega races. This time, all drivers walked away from the scene, though not unscathed.

Elliott, who flew home in Blairsville, Ga., to consult with a private doctor, was diagnosed with a bruised sternum. Earnhardt, who wears an open-faced helmet, sustained second-degree burns on his neck and face from the flames from Elliott's car.

"I'm hot. This is not good racing," Earnhardt said, referring to the close-quarters racing caused by restrictor plates. "Our car was good today, but we can't keep racing like this, running all over each other like this."

Burton accepted blame.

"I'm not going to make any excuses," he said. "I got into the back of the 3 car. I didn't get him by much, but it doesn't take much. I'm human. I make mistakes. I just feel bad for the car owners and the drivers when cars start spinning around like that."

Though Earnhardt and Elliott were contenders at the time of the wreck, most of the day's strongest cars were running safely ahead. The Labontes, Jarrett and Gordon all escaped harm.

Soon after the Lap 161 restart, those four drivers and Spencer pulled away in a tight, five-car draft that shuffled four times over the final 25 laps. All but Spencer led at least once.

Gordon made an outside move to pass Hendrick Motorsports teammate Terry Labonte for the lead with eight laps to go, but no one else in the lead draft went with Gordon.

"I got hung out to dry," said Gordon, who gambled and lost. "I thought some other guys might go with me, but that's the way it goes out there. Inside 10 laps, if you get some momentum and get a shot, you've got to go for it."

For the time being, brotherhood was a powerful bond. Bobby Labonte opted to stay with Terry rather than go with Gordon. Jarrett and Spencer did the same.

"We help each other out to get to that point, but when it comes to the last two laps and catching him, he's just another driver," said Bobby, at 33 eight years younger than Terry, a two-time Winston Cup champion.

The victory, the first by a Pontiac in 42 restrictor-plate races, was the second of the season for Bobby, who moved from 11th to seventh in the Winston Cup points standings after nine races.

Pontiac also reached the winner's circle for just the second time at Talladega, where Richard Petty last drove the General Motors make to victory in 1983. But with Bobby, whose Joe Gibbs-owned team switched from Chevy to Pontiac last year, it was only a matter of time.

Bobby finished third in Talladega's spring race last year, and second last fall when the only car between him and victory belonged to _ that's right _ brother Terry. When it all was over on Sunday, Bobby had only one regret.

"It's a shame (Terry) couldn't have finished second," Bobby said. "That would have been cool."

Maybe then he could have called.

GEARHEAD STATS

AVERAGE SPEED: 163.439 mph

TIME OF RACE: 3:03.35

MARGIN OF VICTORY: .167 seconds

LEAD CHANGES: among nine drivers CAUTION FLAGS: three for 16 laps

RED FLAGS: one for 27 minutes

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