CHICAGO SUN-TIMES KING OF THE TRACK UPDATE - RICHMOND

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Note: Rain once again played a role in the finish of a NASCAR Winston Cup series race Saturday night at the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway, but unlike the earlier rain-shortened races this season, such as the Daytona 500, Mother Nature waited until there were fewer than seven laps remaining. When NASCAR officials made the decision to call the end of the race, Joe Nemechek, driver of the no. 25 UAW/Delphi Chevrolet, took home his third NASCAR Winston Cup Series-career victory. Nemechek led a race-high 155 laps, including the final 64.

Tony Stewart, driver of the no. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet, may have been the favorite among the King of the Track panel of ?experts?, but Chicagoland Speedway VP/GM Matthew Alexander?s surprising pick of Jeff Burton was all he needed to propel him to first place and take an 88-point lead over Mark Schanowski, host of SpeedSunday on NBC-5. Four of the top nine positions were Roush cars, and Burton, driver of the no. 99 Citgo Ford, secured ninth place Saturday night under the lights. Burton didn?t finish as well as he ran, but he did run in the top-five for most of the night and was able to avoid the sometimes-unavoidable short track damage several times throughout the evening.

Schanowski, one week after picking the winning driving at California and taking the early points lead, now finds himself in second place, trailing Alexander by 88 points after picking Stewart. The Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway has typically been the springboard to Tony Stewart?s season in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, but this year?s spring event at the .75-mile oval didn?t give Stewart what he was looking for. While successfully avoiding the spinning Ford of Elliott Sadler on lap 222, Stewart then got into the high side of the track filled with debris and rubber from the worn out Goodyear tires and sent the nose of his Chevy immediately hard into the wall, thus ending his chances of defending his win.

Like Alexander, Chicago Sun-Times racing expert, Dan Cahill, went with a Roush car and it paid off by pulling him out of last place and taking over the third position. Cahill went with Matt Kenseth, driver of the no. 17 DeWALT Ford, and secured a seventh place finish Saturday night at RIR. Kenseth?s seventh place finish was his ninth top 10 of the 2003 season and gave him enough points to remain the points leader, 20 ahead of second place Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kenseth has been in the points lead for eight weeks. For the second week in a row, we have a tie between ESPN Radio 1000 host Jurko and the race fans, this time for fourth position. Both went with Stewart and now trail first-place Alexander by 143 points and third-place Cahill by 52 points.

US*99's Ramblin Ray also fell victim to Stewart?s disappointing 41st-place finish, relinquishing him to last place in the King of the Track standings.

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