RICHMOND, FEB. 21 -- Neil Bonnett fought through traffic as he held off Ricky Rudd and Richard Petty over the last 40 laps to win the caution-filled Pontiac Excitement 400 today at the Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway.

Bonnett, who began the race from the third position after qualifying Saturday at 94.434 mph, took the lead after 352 laps. His average speed of 66.401 mph was held down by 83 laps run under a track-record 14 caution flags.

He earned $45,900 of the $358,000 purse. It was Bonnett's 17th Winston Cup career victory and first since the 1986 Nationwide 500 at Rockingham. It comes only four months after a broken leg in a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway threatened his racing career. A metal plate was put in the leg, and Bonnett walks with a limp.

"If I would have listened to some people it would have been over," said Bonnett. "I had people tell me I didn't need to drive anymore but I just liked it too much. When I quit I want it to be my decision, not somebody else."

Several drivers claimed errors in the scoring, so Bonnett had to wait to be declared the winner.

The questions concerned a pit stop on lap 229 to change tires that caused Bonnett to lose two laps. Some questioned if he made up the deficit.

"The only thing I know about that is when I went back out, Dale {Earnhardt} was in front of me," said Bonnett. "I ran him down and passed him. We ran about 15 or 20 laps and Dale pitted. When he pitted he came back out and he was about a straightaway behind me. They told me to be sure and hold Dale off because you're back in the lead lap."

The scoring problems had begun when Kyle Petty lost control in turn two of the 167th lap forcing the 11th caution flag of the race. For the remaining 233 laps, the official leader was a mystery as the cars continually jockeyed for position on the short track.

Rudd, who finished ahead of Petty for second, was most outspoken following the race.

"We got cheated out of this race," he said. "How we could lead all those laps and not win I don't know. We won, no doubt about it."

Darrell Waltrip was fourth, Sterling Marlin fifth, Lake Speed sixth and Rusty Wallace seventh. Speed led for 64 laps before Bonnett overtook him for the 11th and last lead change.

Petty, a six-time winner of this event, spent Friday's news conference dispelling rumors of his retirement. He spent today proving he was not finished. Petty, who escaped serious injury in a spectacular accident last week at Daytona, raced among the leaders much of the day before finishing third.

At first, it looked as if the overflow crowd that braved 39-degree weather might never see the excitement side of the Pontiac Excitement 400. As cars slipped around the track, many drivers became acquainted with the unique steel guard rails that surround the .542-mile oval.

After 165 laps, the 11th caution flag came out, setting a Richmond Raceway record. Fifty-three of the first 165 laps were under the yellow, holding the average speed to 61.746 mph at the halfway point.

Brad Teague's spinout on lap one began the flurry of yellow flags. Only moments after the green flag opened things up again, Davey Allison tagged the wall in turn one forcing another caution.

Allison, who finished second behind his father Bobby in last week's Daytona 500, returned to the race 115 laps later driving a car that appeared more suited for a demolition derby than a high speed race. Driving with the engine exposed and missing the rear right fender, Allison finished 29th.

Bulldozers and construction equipment surrounded the action. Construction has already begun on a new three-quarter-mile layout to be completed before the Miller High Life 400 here Sept. 11.