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Martin hits mark, with fuel to spare


Mark Martin has plenty of reasons to be worried when he's leading a race as the laps wind down.

"I can't tell you how many times I've lost races when something has gone wrong just when it looked like we were going to win one," Martin said after cruising to his third victory of the season in Sunday's California 500.

A year ago, Martin lost the race at California Speedway when he had to make a late gas stop while leading. This time, there was enough in the tank to get him to the finish with gas to spare.

But that didn't keep the two-time Winston Cup runner-up and winner of 25 races from worrying.

"I knew I had the best car, but I didn't know if I'd win the race," he said. "I've had my heart broke a lot of times.

"When you're leading a race, you're looking at anything that's going to go wrong. I shouldn't have even been looking at the gauges, but I looked at the fuel-pressure gauge and detected it was starting to pick up some air and there were some fluctuations."

The driver for Roush Racing said car-owner Jack Roush assured him there was plenty of gas left.

"Jack told me we had enough for three more laps, at least," Martin said. "But I still wasn't going to take anything for granted until I knew I could coast to the finish if it ran out."

His Ford Taurus was under full power when Martin beat Jeremy Mayfield to the finish line by 1.287-seconds _ about 15 car-lengths.

"This was a redemption for last year," Martin said after leading 165 of the 250 laps on the 2-mile banked oval.

Martin, who led the last 45 laps, averaged 140.220 mph and won $141,375.

Terry Labonte finished a distant third, followed by 1997 race winner and defending series champion Jeff Gordon and three-time titlist Darrell Waltrip.

Sunday's result gave Mayfield the series lead for the first time. Labonte moved into second place in the standings, trailing Mayfield by 36 points and leading Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon by 11.

Ironically, Gordon lost his chance to repeat last year's victory _ a race in which he made his final tank of gas last just long enough to win _ when he had to make an extra pit stop for gas during a caution period on Lap 213.

The two-time series champ had made his green-flag stop on Lap 195 and would not have been able to get to the checkered flag, while the other leaders pitted later.

Gordon was 13th for the restart on Lap 235. He slashed quickly through traffic, took fifth place from Waltrip on Lap 242 and passed Chad Little for fourth place on Lap 244.

Rusty Wallace, who came into the race with a 36-point lead over Mayfield, his teammate, appeared to be the only driver in the 43-car field who had a shot at beating Martin. But something in Wallace's engine broke on Lap 238 while he was running second. He wound up 34th.

The race was slowed by six caution flags for 35 laps, as well as a 26-minute stoppage following the first of two multi-car crashes.

The first incident came on Lap 86 when Dale Jarrett, who crashed in qualifying on Friday and spent most of the week suffering from the flu, lost his engine driving through Turns 1 and 2.

Kyle Petty skidded through the oil and slammed hard into Bill Elliott, taking both cars hard into the outside wall. Dale Earnhardt also spun and took teammate Mike Dillon _ driving in place of injured Mike Skinner _ with him.

Elliott, who suffered a bruised sternum in a wild, fiery crash a week earlier at Talladega, was transported by helicopter to a local hospital where he received two stitches to his chin. He also has fracture of a small bone in his left foot, a chip fracture on the middle finger of his left hand and several bruises on his back and abdomen. Elliott was treated and released.

NHRA LONE STAR NATIONALS: Joe Amato and Mike Edwards won for the first time this season, taking their respective divisions at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis. Winning for the second time in 1998 was Ron Capps, in Funny Car. Amato won for the fifth time in his career in Top Fuel, defeating Doug Kalitta in the finals. Amato covered the quarter-mile in 4.695 seconds at 313.58 mph to Kalitta's 4.686 at 312.82. In Pro Stock, Edwards had a 7.024 at 195.56 to Kurt Johnson's 7.018 at 196.89. Capps defeated John Force to keep the seven-time Funny Car champion winless in 1998. Capps had a 4.960 at 292.39 in a Chevrolet to Force's 6.463 at 146.93 in the debut of the Elvis-themed GTX Mustang.