NASCAR truck series driver John Nemechek, who had been in a coma since suffering brain damage in a crash on Sunday, died yesterday in Miami.

Nemechek, 27, died at 11:30 a.m., a day after doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital said his vital signs remained stable and pressure on his brain had not increased.

Nemechek had developed some chemical imbalance throughout his system due to a slight deterioration in kidney function, the hospital said Thursday.

He had been on life support since the crash during the Florida Dodge Dealers 400 at the Homestead Motorsports Complex near Miami. His truck hit the wall on the first turn in the 144th lap at the 1.57-mile track.

The brain injury was inoperable, according to Phillip Villanueva, director of the neurotrauma unit.

Nemechek's brother, NASCAR Winston Cup driver Joe Nemechek, and other family members were at his side when he died.

Joe Nemechek is withdrawing from Sunday's Winston Cup TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington, S.C., and will be replaced by Phil Parsons. WINSTON CUP: Dale Jarrett apparently has figured out Darlington International Raceway's tough egg-shaped oval.

The Winston Cup points leader came up with his second straight pole on the 1.316-mile circuit, leading the opening round of time trials for the TranSouth Financial 400.

It is only the fourth pole of Jarrett's career and his first of the season.

"Usually, a lap around here to win the pole is pretty white knuckle," the second-generation NASCAR star said. "But this was pretty comfortable, a pretty uneventful lap, really. It felt a little too snug to be a really quick lap, but it was fast enough."

Asked how he has figured out Darlington so well all of a sudden, Jarrett, who also started third here last spring, said, "What I figured out is {crew chief} Todd Parrott. He's on my side now and that's the difference."

So far this season, Jarrett, 40, has dominated, leading more than 50 percent of the laps run and finishing in the top three in three of four races.

"The team just continues to bring me good race cars to the track," Jarrett said. "This is the same car we won with at Atlanta {two weeks ago}, so I was pretty comfortable coming here. And we had a great test last fall getting ready for the Southern 500, and it helped me a lot with this race track. We've got a setup that works and we're excited about Sunday."

Jarrett, the 11th of 46 drivers who made one-lap qualifying attempts yesterday, turned a lap of 171.095 mph and then waited over an hour as most of the competitors tried to knock his Robert Yates Racing Ford Thunderbird off the top spot.

Ricky Craven, driving a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, came the closest, taking the outside spot on the front row with a lap of 171.047. His lap speed was just 0.008 seconds slower than Jarrett's.

"I thought it was a good enough lap for the pole," said Craven, running his fifth race for his new Hendrick Motorsports team. "I'm going to beat myself up tonight wondering where I could have got nine thousandths {of a second}."

Bobby Labonte was third at 170.910 in a Pontiac Grand Prix, followed closely by the Fords of Geoff Bodine, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Hut Stricklin and Jarrett's teammate Ernie Irvan.

Rounding out the top 10 were the Chevys of Sterling Marlin and Jeff Gordon, who will attempt to win his fourth straight Winston Cup race Sunday at Darlington.

The top 25 qualifiers earned starting positions yesterday, with the rest looking to earn positions in the 42-car race field today by standing on their first-day lap or trying to better it.

Among the slower cars in the first round were rookie Robby Gordon, who was 38th yesterday after winning the pole at Atlanta two weeks ago, and seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt. CAPTION: John Nemechek passed away in Miami, five days after his car crashed at the NASCAR Craftsman 400.