Halfway through the 36-race Winston Cup season, the battle at the top of the standings is a three-way duel.
Engine problems late in Sunday's race at Chicagoland Speedway relegated Jeff Gordon to 17th place and, combined with third- and fourth-place finishes by Robert Yates Racing teammates Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett, tightened things considerably.
Three-time series champion Gordon, who came in with a 48-point edge on Jarrett, left tied for the lead with the 1999 champ. Both have three wins, but Gordon holds the tiebreak edge by virtue of four second-place finishes to one for Jarrett.
Rudd, who has yet to win a championship, moved within 18 points of the lead.
"I'm just thrilled to be tied (considering) the trouble we've had the last couple of weeks," said Gordon, 37th last week in Daytona after a crash. "We've outrun them on the racetrack, but we've just had trouble getting to the checkered flag. We've just got to finish these races and we'll be okay."
STILL A STRUGGLE: Just when it seemed Bobby Labonte had turned around a disappointing season, things turned sour again for the defending Winston Cup champion.
Labonte was a virtual afterthought before his engine broke after 168 of the 267 laps. He was 39th, the fourth time Labonte has failed to finish in 18 starts this season.
"Something let go in the motor," he said. "It was running pretty good, then the caution flag came out and I let off. It had a little bit of a miss in it at that point. I didn't think much about it, but I got going again and on the restart it just went all of a sudden."
GOING GREEN: Defending Busch Grand National series champion Jeff Green will drive a third car for Richard Childress Racing next year in Winston Cup. Green drove the No. 30 car for owner Childress on Sunday and finished 36th after an engine failure.
"Jeff is a driver who knows exactly what it takes to win races and championships," Childress said.
Green raced in Winston Cup for several teams in 1997-98 and had one top 10 in 50 starts.
"I was in Cup before in equipment that wasn't championship equipment," Green said. " There is no way that I would ever leave what I had to run 30th. This is an opportunity to win, and that's what it's all about."
GETTING OUT: Dan Pardus, who broke a bone in his lower back in a crash during Saturday's BGN race, was fitted for a back brace and released from a Joliet hospital.
_ TIMES WIRES
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