Dale Jarrett has a problem at North Carolina Speedway: It seems all he can do is finish second.

Jarrett has been runner-up six times in the last seven races on the 1.017-mile oval in Rockingham, N.C. It is a tough situation for the second-generation NASCAR star, who is on the verge of winning his first Winston Cup title.

"Hopefully, we'll continue the streak that we've had," he said. "Actually, I don't want to continue that streak. But, if we have to take second, I will. We'd like to get into victory lane."

Asked why he keeps finishing second on a track on which he has yet to win, Jarrett scratched his head and said, "It's just that somebody always seems to be faster at the end of this race than me."

He has led the most laps and has looked ready to win. And there also have been times when his Ford wasn't the second-best car on the track. That was the case eight months ago, and it made no difference.

"We finished second somehow," Jarrett said. "We just managed to do things right at the end and got into second."

Jarrett enters today's Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 with a 246-point lead over Bobby Labonte and a 319-point edge over Mark Martin--the only drivers with a realistic chance to catch him in the final four races of the season. Jarrett needs to finish 13th or better in each race to clinch the championship.

"We still plan on being aggressive," Jarrett said. "We know the best way for us not to lose any points is to win the race, and that's what we've come to do."

Martin, who won on the track earlier this season, will start from the pole, with Jarrett third and Labonte fifth in the 43-car lineup.

Martin continued his dominance of the Busch Series races at North Carolina Speedway yesterday, holding off Jeff Green in the final laps of the Kmart 200 to earn his 10th win on the track. Martin, who started from the pole, led four times for 142 of the 197 laps--including the final 66. . . .

The controversial decision to reinstate Ferrari's 1-2 finish in the Malaysian Grand Prix assures Formula One a thrilling finish next weekend in Japan--and more charges of bending the rules for commercial interests.

The decision by the organization's International Court of Appeal brought cries of foul play from rival McLaren, which had been celebrating the second straight championship of Mika Hakkinen, and raised questions about Formula One's credibility.

The ruling from the five-member panel of lawyers means Ferrari's Eddie Irvine has a four-point lead on Hakkinen entering the Oct. 31 season finale in the Japanese Grand Prix.

Ferraris driven by Irvine and Michael Schumacher finished 1-2 a week ago in Malaysia but were disqualified because their aerodynamic deflectors did not comply with FIA regulations. Hakkinen was moved up from third and given the win and season title.


Tauziat Advances

Fourth-seeded Nathalie Tauziat of France fired nine aces to beat Lisa Raymond of the United States, 6-4, 6-2, to reach the final of the $1.05 million Kremlin Cup in Moscow.

Tauziat will face second-seeded Barbara Schett of Austria in today's final. Schett defeated fifth-seeded Dominique Van Roost of Belgium, 7-5, 7-6 (8-6), in the second semifinal. . . .

Australian Lleyton Hewitt beat eighth-seeded Vincent Spadea of the United States, 6-3, 6-3, at the Lyon Grand Prix in France to reach the final in his first appearance on the European indoor circuit.

Hewitt, ranked 27th in the world, will meet sixth-seeded Nicolas Lapentti in the final. The Ecuadoran rallied to beat Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson, 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (8-6), 6-2, in the second semifinal. . . .

Top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo of France advanced to the final of the Eurotel Slovak Indoor tournament after a wasp sting forced Kveta Hrdlickova of the Czech Republic to withdraw.

Mauresmo, who was the runner-up at the Australian Open but has struggled with injuries, will play eighth-seeded Kim Clijsters of Belgium in today's final in Bratislava, Slovakia.


Van Lierde, Bowden Win

Ironman Luc Van Lierde of Belgium assumed the lead just after the start of the marathon and steadily extended it en route to claiming the 23rd Ironman World Championship by more than five minutes, finishing in 8 hours 17 minutes 17 seconds in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Lori Bowden of Canada, who gained the lead 10 miles into the run, won the women's division in 9:13:05.


Ballanger Sweeps Worlds

France's Felicia Ballanger, the most dominant woman in track cycling history, swept the time trials to capture her 10th world championship gold medal.

The 28-year-old won in 34.477 seconds in Berlin, one day after claiming the sprint. She is unbeaten in both events at the worlds since first winning in 1995.