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Gordon plays catch up, but can't take over

The Brickyard 400's only previous two-time winner is now joined by another.

It wasn't for lack of trying, though, that pole-sitter Jeff Gordon could not catch Dale Jarrett and prevent the No. 88 Ford driver from adding the 1999 race title to his 1996 victory.

He simply ran out of time, and track. On top of that, Gordon was troubled by a No. 24 Chevrolet that was not nearly consistent enough keep pace with Jarrett.

"My car would go for 20 or 25 laps and be pretty decent, and then just completely fall off," said Gordon, who won the Brickyard race in 1994 and '98. "One time I came in early because I didn't feel like I had any rubber left on the tire.

"For me, I was trying to be patient, but even when I was trying to be patient, those guys would drive away from me and never come back to me."

Gordon rallied late, passing rookie Tony Stewart for seventh on Lap 148, then passing Dale Earnhardt, who wound up 10th, for sixth on Lap 150. Before the 160-lap race was done, Gordon also flew by the Burton brothers, Jeff and Ward, who finished fifth and sixth, respectively, and got past Mark Martin, who wound up fourth.

Catching Jarrett or runner-up Bobby Labonte, however, was not to be.

"There at the end my tires were shot," Gordon said.

"I had my hands full all day long. I never felt comfortable," he added. "Every time I felt we could get after it, the car would get away from me _ either the back end, or the front end. I saw a lot of guys wiggling around out there _ except the 88."

MOTOR MISS: Engine trouble spoiled any hope Labonte had of catching Jarrett, whose 117 laps led is a race record (Gordon led the previous high, 97, last year).

"The motor picked up a miss and it just sounded weird," said Labonte, who noticed the problem with about 40 laps to go.

"It didn't handle good, either, so I'm not going to blame it all on the motor. We just weren't hooked up as good as (Jarrett)."

DEFINITE PROBLEM: What a rough week it was for Darrell Waltrip.

On Thursday, an emotional Waltrip announced plans to retire after next season. On Saturday, the three-time Winston Cup champion dropped out of the 400 after completing just 58 laps due to what was officially deemed handling problems.

The biggest woe: The No. 66 Ford would not go.

"I was going down the straightaway," Waltrip said, "and it just cut off."

REALLY HOT: Kyle Petty's No. 44 Pontiac lived up to its name after hitting the outside retaining wall in Turn 1, taking it out of the race on Lap 74. The Hot Wheels car caught fire, but Petty escaped without assistance. He was released without injury after being examined at Clarian Emergency Medical Center.

"I just cut a tire," Petty said. "Must have ran over something on the track."

BREAK: The Petty incident brought out one of just two wreck-prompted yellow flags.

The other flew after Chad Little did a half-spin and hit the outside wall with the left side of his No. 97 Ford, which made contact with Geoffrey Bodine's No. 60 Chevrolet as Little tried to pass on the outside between Turns 1 and 2 of Lap 44.

"I got bumped by a bald-headed cue ball," said Little, who also crashed out the 1997 and '98 Brickyard races. "It was a brain-dead maneuver on (Bodine's) part."

MISC.: This was the 18th race of the season in which Labonte led at least one lap, tops in Winston Cup. All previous Brickyard 400 winners finished in the top 10: Gordon (third), Ricky Rudd (ninth) and Earnhardt (10th). Ford continues to lead the manufacturer's points race with 10 victories and 144 points. Chevy has six victories and 122 points; Pontiac has four victories and 114 points.

_ TIM BUCKLEY

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