-- Ryan Newman passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 11 laps remaining today and held on to win the Samsung/Radio Shack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Newman gambled by changing just two tires on his last pit stop, and the payoff was his second career victory and first since Sept. 15, 2002, in New Hampshire.
"Tires and track position were key, for sure," Newman said. "We didn't think four tires were going to make that much of a difference and we needed to get to the front some way."
He didn't win it easily, though, having to fight off a strong challenge from Earnhardt, the crowd favorite.
Newman, who led four times for 77 laps, appeared to gain control when he took the lead on Lap 224 of the 334-lap event. That came during a caution period -- one of 10 in the race -- in the middle of a series of green-flag stops.
Newman hadn't pitted, and found himself in front.
Newman lost the lead for one lap when he made his final stop on Lap 286, but regained the top spot the next time around the 11/2-mile oval when Dale Jarrett, who had stayed on the track to get the five-point bonus for leading a lap, made his stop.
Earnhardt's Chevrolet was second when the green flag came out for the restart on Lap 289, and the son of the late seven-time Winston Cup champion brought most of the crowd of more than 200,000 to their feet when he took the inside line and charged past Newman's Dodge.
All the other leaders took four tires on their last stop, and it appeared for a while that Newman's tire gamble was going to fail. Earnhardt built a lead of up to 20 car-lengths before the Newman began to reel in the leader.
The cars were side-by-side as they crossed the finish line on Lap 323, and Newman then pulled steadily ahead, moving away to win by 3.405 seconds -- about half the final straightaway.
Newman, 25, one of NASCAR's heralded "Young Guns," gave Penske Racing South its first win since switching from Ford to Dodge this winter.
After Newman took control, Earnhardt had to fend off four-time series champion Jeff Gordon for second place. Gordon actually got past Earnhardt on Lap 333, but Earnhardt bumped past Gordon's Chevrolet on the final straightaway to take the runner-up spot by 0.002 seconds -- a matter of inches.
"We had a good car, but not good enough," Earnhardt said. "My car was junk there at the end. I tried to hold [Newman] on the bottom and make his car push, but he still got by me. Then I had a real good fight with Gordon."
"He made it hard on us," Gordon said. "If we'd have been going for the win, we probably would have wrecked."
Jerry Nadeau finished fourth, followed by Mark Martin and series points leader and last year's Texas winner Matt Kenseth.
Labonte's teammate, Tony Stewart, the defending series champion, had a terrible weekend. First, he had his primary car impounded by NASCAR on Friday after it failed inspection. Today, he fell out of the race after 293 laps with an engine problem in his backup car and finished 34th.