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Nemechek Leads Hendrick at Darlington

DARLINGTON, S.C. (March 17, 2003) – Joe Nemechek was the highest finishing Hendrick Motorsports driver at Darlington Raceway on Sunday as he moved into the top 10 in NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship points after driving the No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet to its third consecutive top-15 showing of the season.

The Lakeland, Fla., native finished 13th overall and jumped three positions in the driver standings to eighth, tying him with teammate Jimmie Johnson and putting Team 25 just 159 points out of first.

“We had a great race car today,” Nemechek said. “The guys did a great job in the pits and we reached our two goals for the week, which were to have a solid finish and get this UAW-Delphi team into the top 10 in points. We’ve got some momentum and we’re looking to carry that into Bristol.”

In his 750th career race, Terry Labonte brought his No. 5 Kellogg’s / got milk? Chevy across the finish line 24th after starting the race in the 29th position. The two-time Winston Cup champion advanced one spot in points to 25th, just 111 markers out of a place in the top 10.

After starting 14th in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson eased his way into the top 10 at Darlington, but sustained damage after getting together with the No. 40 of Sterling Marlin.

“It was unfortunate that we had problems early in the race today,” said Team Lowe’s Racing crew chief Chad Knaus. “Jimmie was doing a great job of picking his way through traffic to get back key track position. The Lowe’s crew did a great job of getting the Chevy repaired and back out on the track.

“Jimmie had his hands full getting around a tough race track with a damaged race car. The past three weekends we haven’t gotten the results we had hoped, but to still be in the top-10 in the standings is a great reflection of this team’s effort.”

Johnson slid four positions to eighth overall in the championship standings, ending a streak of 29 consecutive races in the top five.

Four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who started fifth and led for much of the 293-lap event, finished 33rd in the No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo following a late-race brush with the Darlington retaining wall.

“We got the track position and we had the car to beat,” Gordon said. “At that point, I was tight, but still I had the track position. I was out front and all I had to do was keep it out of the wall. Obviously, that wasn’t as easy as I thought it was. I just got in there and it seemed like the right-rear just caught it a little bit and sucked the right front in, knocked the toe out and it was over.”

Gordon slid seven positions to 15th in points.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series will next visit the .533-mile oval of Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for the Food City 500. Coverage of the event will begin at 12:30 p.m. EST on PRN Radio and the FOX television network.

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