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Labonte Leads Hendrick in Dover Melee

DOVER, Del. (June 6, 2004) – Terry Labonte led Hendrick Motorsports in Sunday’s crash-filled NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event at Dover International Speedway, earning his second top-10 finish of 2004.

Labonte, who started 34th, placed seventh in the No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet after avoiding a myriad of on-track incidents which resulted in a 97.042-mph average speed for the event—the slowest in one-mile track’s history.

The performance vaulted the two-time Cup Series champion to 21st in the NEXTEL Cup standings, up four positions from last week.

Unfortunately, Labonte’s teammates weren’t so lucky.

Brian Vickers, who started third and ran inside the top 10 throughout the afternoon, was credited with a 23rd-place finish after spinning in oil on the racing surface at Lap 382.

The incident collected a number of cars, including some of the frontrunners, and forced Vickers out of the race with damage to his No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet.

“The GMAC Chevy team had been doing a good job all day,” Vickers said.  “We got our five points for leading early on and we were on our way to a top-five and somebody blew up and was riding around in the groove putting oil down and a couple of us ended up getting into it.  You’re going to have that.”

Vickers was transported to Dover’s infield care center and released without injury.  He is now 23rd in points.

Jimmie Johnson and Team Lowe’s Racing suffered a similar fate earlier in the 400-lap event.

While running solidly in the top-five on Lap 347, Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was caught in a major pileup following a restart with 55 laps remaining.  At least 19 cars were involved in the wreck, which started when Dave Blaney and Michael Waltrip made contact in Turn 3.

The incident triggered a long red-flag period and relegated Johnson to a 32nd-place finish.  He was released from the care center with no injuries, but could not return to the event because of extensive damage to his Monte Carlo.

“The No. 15 (Waltrip) checked up a little bit for some reason going into (turn) three or the No. 23 (Blaney) just got a good run on him,” said Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief.  “The No. 23 drove up into him.

“It all happened from there.”

Even with the disappointing finish, Johnson remains second in the NEXTEL Cup championship standings, just 98 points behind leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 DuPont team weren’t immune to trouble at “The Monster Mile,” blowing a right-front tire just after the halfway point in Sunday’s event.

Gordon finished 36th and slid to fifth in the standings after 13 of 36 races.

In all, there were 11 caution flags for 90 laps, two lengthy red-flag periods, 16 cars unable to finish and a bevy of teams competing with damage.

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will next visit Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., for the Pocono 500 on Sunday, June 13.  The event will be broadcast on FOX (1 p.m. ET) and MRN Radio (12:30 p.m. ET).

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