Park Drives To Rockingham Win

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ROCKINGHAM, N.C. – This one’s for you boss.

On Monday afternoon in the rain-delayed Dura-Lube 400 from North Carolina Speedway, Steve Park scored one of the most emotional victories in NASCAR Winston Cup Series history when he held off a late-race challenge from defending series champion Bobby Labonte who finished second.

With tears streaming down his face as well as most of the crowd in attendance, Park dedicated his second Winston Cup win to his former team owner and seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt who was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500 eight days ago.

“It has been a tough week, but this is a dream finish,” Park said after climbing from his car in victory lane, moments after doing a backwards lap around the track to honor Earnhardt, with him holding a No. 3 Earnhardt hat out the window. “Dale is gone, but he’s not forgotten. He’s going to be with all the drivers and fans for a long time.

“With a couple of laps to go, I got emotional and had tears coming down. Then I had to kind of wipe my eyes and get back up on the steering wheel because that’s what Dale would have wanted me to do. That’s what I did. I did what Dale Earnhardt would have done. Dale Earnhardt’s the one who taught me how to drive the hell out of a car. Bobby didn’t know it was Earnhardt in the car in front of him.”

Ironically, while doing his reverse victory lap, Park’s No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet ran out of gas and had to be pushed to the winner’s circle. In the closing laps, it looked as if Labonte might spoil Park’s wishes of victory, pulling up alongside the leader even though he never pushed the issue too hard.

“I’m just glad it was Bobby behind me,” Park said. “He wanted to win this race as much as I did, and if it wasn’t for him being so careful around me we probably would have both ended up wrecking. I want to thank Bobby for that.”

Rounding out the Top 10 behind Park and Labonte were Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ricky Craven, Johnny Benson, Rusty Wallace, Sterling Marlin, Dave Blaney and Dale Jarrett.

Labonte had a chance to take the victory, but used good judgment to not cause a wreck between he and Park and finished in the runner-up slot.

“It does my heart good to see Steve win, he deserved it,” Labonte said. “After the race I pulled up alongside him and I waved my No. 3 hat at him and he waved his No. 3 hat at me. It was pretty special.”

Gordon looked, at one point in the race, like he was the man to beat until the handling went away on his Chevrolet late in the race.

“Steve drove a great race and I’m really happy for all those guys at Dale Earnhardt Inc. because they needed to have a good weekend like this,” Gordon said. “We’re missing somebody here, that’s for sure. It’s not going to be the same.”

While Stewart never led, he was able to finish fourth.

“I’m glad this thing is over because I’m pretty sore,” said Stewart, whose Pontiac was sent airborne and into a nasty multi-car crash at Daytona. “To be able to finish fourth was a pretty good day for us. If I couldn’t win this race, I’m glad to see Steve Park win it.”

Ricky Craven also went a long way into showing his new team owner, Cal Wells, made the right choice by hiring him over the winter months with a fifth-place effort.

"Gosh, what an effort from this team all day,” Craven said. “I’m so glad for the opportunity (team owner) Cal Wells gave me. We’re going to have a good year. On another note, I wanted to win the race, but I’m glad Park was able to win for the Earnhardt family.”

The Dura-Lube 400 marked the first race back for NASCAR’s top rank without Earnhardt, who died Feb. 18 as a result of a crash on the last lap of the season-opening Daytona 500. In his absence, the Richard Childress Racing team had Kevin Harvick driving their No. 29 car; the number was changed from the traditional No. 3 in honor of the fallen champion.

Harvick made quite an impression, finishing one lap down in the 14th position.

“Kevin did a great job with the situation he was handed,” said Kevin Hamlin, Earnhardt’s former crew chief who is still in that role with the Harvick team. “I know he made Dale real happy so I’m real proud that he was able to do that.”

According to Park, there was one racer who was very happy with the results.

“I just busted out in tears because I could see Dale,” Park said. “He was here with us all week and he will be with this organization for years to come. As hard as it is to smile after winning this race, we know Dale is going to be with us for a long time to come.”

The Winston Cup Series will return to action next week in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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