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Gordon holds off Earnhardt

The No. 24 Chevrolet jumps into the lead with a quick restart.

Jeff Gordon has been down this road before at Richmond, coming from nowhere in the waning laps to challenge for victory.

This time, he made it, passing Jeff Burton on the first lap of a restart with 15 circuits remaining to win the Chevrolet 400.

"This is the biggest win of the year for us, no question about it," Gordon said of his 52nd career victory. "It was pretty nice to see how things came together tonight. It says a lot about this race team."

Gordon stayed among the leaders but never led until he passed Burton on the outside in Turns 3 and 4 at Richmond International Raceway, then outran Dale Earnhardt to the finish, winning by .744 seconds.

"I knew we had to take advantage of Jeff on the restart," said Gordon, who won for the third time this year in his No. 24 Chevrolet. "Whichever way he went, I was going to go the other way."

Brief as it was, Gordon's battle with Burton for the lead was reminiscent of another duel between the Jeffs in this race in 1998.

In that battle, Gordon came from far behind to catch Burton with five laps remaining, then tried everything he could to pass him only to have Burton answer every wiggle and shake with one of his own in victory.

"He always races me hard," Gordon said. "We've had some great battles here."

Earnhardt, racing for a $1-million bonus, moved into second place in the points race on a tough night for Winston Cup series champion Dale Jarrett.

"Good points day for us. That's what we needed," said Earnhardt, who trails Bobby Labonte by 158 points. That's Labonte's biggest lead of the year.

Jarrett slammed the wall less than halfway through the race, lost 14 laps during a stop for repairs and finished 31st to fall to third in points.

Labonte, another of the five drivers racing for the bonus, seemed in position to make a run for the money after emerging from the pits in second place with 45 laps to go. But on his first lap back on the track under the caution, smoke billowed from his power steering mechanism, causing him to pit twice more and dropping him out of contention.He finished 15th.

With nine races to go, Labonte is 158 points ahead of Earnhardt, who is seeking his record eighth Winston Cup championship. Jarrett dropped to third, 164 back, and Burton is fourth.

"We're going to be dogging it and doing all we can," Earnhardt said.

After Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevy came Mark Martin's Ford, Steve Park's Chevy and Burton's Ford.

Until the end, neither Gordon nor Earnhardt had been much of a factor, instead biding their time and waiting for a chance to move.

Gordon did it when he came out of the pits second behind Burton with 45 laps to go, and Earnhardt was fourth. Earnhardt pitted again when the final yellow flew with 20 laps to go, emerging sixth for the final run.

GEARHEAD STATS

AVERAGE SPEED: 99.871 mph.

TIME OF RACE: 3 hours, 14 seconds.

MARGIN OF VICTORY: .744 seconds.

LEAD CHANGES: 16 among nine drivers.

CAUTIONS: Eight for 57 laps.

LAP LEADERS: Bobby Labonte 1, Jeff Burton 2-33, Sterling Marlin 34, Ted Musgrave 35, Burton 36-90, Rusty Wallace 91-178, Steve Park 179-185, Tony Stewart 186-190, Park 191-193, Burton 194-202, Park 203-295, Labonte 296-297, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 298-302, Park 303-329, Burton 330-385, Jeff Gordon 386-400.

POINTS LEADERS: Bobby Labonte, 3,761. Dale Earnhardt, 3,603. Dale Jarrett, 3,597. Jeff Burton, 3,578. Tony Stewart, 3,353. Rusty Wallace, 3,307. Ricky Rudd, 3,297. Mark Martin, 3,287. Ward Burton, 3,281. Jeff Gordon, 3,170.

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