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Race ends under caution, series tightens

2/5/2004

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Bobby Hamilton Jr. won the rain-shortened
race and Scott Riggs took the lead in the tight five-man NASCAR
Busch series points chase Saturday at Phoenix International
Raceway.

Hamilton was ahead of Kevin Harvick by nearly a straightaway on
the 1-mile oval when light rain brought out a caution flag on lap
175. The race earlier had been interrupted for 2 hours, and 24
minutes by rain.

With darkness falling quickly, NASCAR ended the Bashas'
Supermarkets 200 after 181 laps. It was originally scheduled to go
200 laps, but the teams were notified prior to the last restart, on
lap 172, that it would be cut to 190 because of the impending
darkness.

It didn't get that far, and Hamilton wound up celebrating his
fourth win of the season in twilight, doing tire-smoking doughnuts
and climbing the fence, ala IndyCar star Helio Castroneves.

Harvick, who won the truck series race Friday, was leading going
into the final pit stop, under caution on lap 102. He came out
fourth, trailing new leader Hamilton, Stacy Compton and Brian
Vickers. Harvick managed to get back to second before the final
restart, but couldn't stay with Hamilton's Ford.

Harvick was upset with his Richard Childress Racing crew for the
slow pit stop.

"You can't give up that much ground to a car that's that good
on the track,'' said Harvick, who also will race in Sunday's
Winston Cup event. "The car was awesome all day, but we got back
there in the pack and never could recover. We just wore out the car
trying to catch up.''

Hamilton, who also has won this year at Kentucky, Chicago and
Memphis, could understand Harvick's frustration.

"The bottom line is pit stops won this race,'' Hamilton said.
"I got far enough ahead to make him have to catch me and use up
his tires.

"I don't know if he could have gotten me or not, but it would
have been a heck of a race.''

Vickers finished third, followed by Joe Nemechek, Ron Hornaday
Jr. and Riggs, who came into the race trailing David Green by 13
points in the championship and will got to Rockingham next week
leading new runner-up Hornaday by 17.

Vickers moved to third, 21 points behind, followed by Green, who
finished 16th Saturday and now trails Riggs by 22. Jason Keller
finished 17th and is fifth in the points, 60 behind, with two races
remaining.

Hamilton, who got off to a slow start this season, now has six
top-five finishes, including two wins, in his last eight starts.
He's sixth in the standings, 125 points out.