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Rudd wins Pocono 500

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) _ Ricky Rudd figured because he was winning the race, something bad was bound to happen.

And with Jeff Gordon closing at the end Sunday, the script seemed perfect for another defeat. But Rudd outlasted Gordon, had enough fuel to finish and broke an 88-race drought.

``I knew something had to go wrong, and then I saw the checkered flag,'' Rudd said after taking the Pocono 500 for his first win since 1998. ``Earlier, I thought I was going to finish third, then I realized, 'Hey, this thing is sticking in the corners.' ''

It was Rudd's first victory in nearly 1 1/2 seasons since selling his own team to drive for Robert Yates Racing. It was the first win in four years for the No. 28 car _ long a favorite of NASCAR fans because many Hall of Famers have driven it.

``There's no way I can describe it,'' said Michael ``Fatback'' McSwain, who got his first victory as a crew chief.

Finishing second was Gordon, who passed Rudd on the last lap a week earlier in Brooklyn, Mich., to win for the second time in a row.

It was McSwain who decided Rudd had enough gas to make it to the end.

``We had to watch it, but they were pretty confident,'' Rudd said. ``I was running 95 percent most of the time, but when I saw Jeff coming I stepped it up a bit.''

He was relieved to win.

``You don't have to explain yourself ... why you lost,'' Rudd said. ``It makes conversation easier on Monday.''

Rudd got his 21st career victory. The 44-year-old driver from Chesapeake, Va., now has won for six different car owners. Bobby Allison won Winston Cup races for seven.

It was the first victory for Rudd in 44 starts at Pocono International Raceway, where he has competed since 1977. He is third in the series standings after 15 of 36 races, trailing leader Gordon by 130 points.

``Once he got in clean air, nobody was going to catch him,'' Gordon said. ``We did everything we possibly could. Catching him was one thing, but passing him would have been another.''

Gordon never got close enough to find out, and trailed by about 15 car-lengths at the end.

Rudd's Ford led 39 of 200 laps on the 2 1/2-mile triangular-shaped oval to beat the Chevrolet of Gordon by 1.119 seconds. Third was Rudd's teammate, Dale Jarrett, followed by Sterling Marlin in a Dodge and Mark Martin in a Ford.

Gordon, who at one point traded the lead with Jarrett on five straight laps, was sprinting away from the field as the other contenders began pitting under green. But a caution flag waved on lap 121, permitting the field to bunch up behind him.

``The caution just didn't fall right for us,'' Gordon said.

A week earlier, he won in part because Sterling Marlin lost a big lead the same way.

But Gordon was satisfied with second Sunday.

``The important thing is the streak that keeps getting us more points,'' he said. ``We just have to keep the momentum up,''

Gordon pitted on lap 122 as the rest stayed out, and he was shuffled back in the field. A yellow flag on lap 158 forced the final pits stops and cut into Jarrett's lead.

Jarrett led Rudd and Gordon when the green waved again with 37 laps left and Dale Earnhardt Jr. just in front, trying to stay on the lead lap.

But it was Rudd who passed Jarrett and Earnhardt on lap 177.

``When two guys get racing side by side, it slows them down 15-20 mph,'' Rudd said of his decisive move to the bottom of the track exiting the first turn. ``I caught them in the right situation, and once I got out in front I had clean air.

``I looked up and saw daylight.''

Then Gordon got by Earnhardt, and the threesome raced together until the end. Gordon passed by Jarrett on lap 194, and now leads him by 36 points.

``We had a great race car, and this was a good day for Robert Yates Racing,'' Jarrett said. ``We wanted to stay behind Ricky and finish second, but our fuel gauge began to sputter and we had to back down a bit to finish,''

Defending champion Jeremy Mayfield, part of a multicar accident early in the race, finished 36th. His teammate, Rusty Wallace, who won last July, was 16th.

The winner averaged 134.389 mph in a race slowed by seven cautions covering 26 laps. The $3.2 million race had 13 lead changes among five drivers.

Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Ken Schrader and Jeff Burton completed the top 10. Rudd won $189,542.

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