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IT'S A BREEZE FOR EARNHARDT JR.\ DALE EARNHARDT JR. WON AN AUTOLITE PLATINUM 250 GRAND NATIONAL RACE FRIDAY NIGHT THAT SAW A LOT OF SHEET METAL TWISTED.
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IT'S A BREEZE FOR EARNHARDT JR.\ DALE EARNHARDT JR. WON AN AUTOLITE PLATINUM 250 GRAND NATIONAL RACE FRIDAY NIGHT THAT SAW A LOT OF SHEET METAL TWISTED.

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For the second straight year, the Autolite Platinum 250 was marked by numerous cautions. And for the second straight year, the No. 3 car reigned supreme.

Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. offered the Busch Grand National drivers a lesson in chest-thumping dominance, leading all but 14 laps in winning his series-best sixth race Friday night at Richmond International Raceway.Earnhardt jumped past pole-sitter Andy Santerre on the first lap, relinquished the lead when he pitted during a lap 82 caution, then moved back into the lead on lap 95 and was never seriously challenged, dusting second-place Jeff Burton by 3.45 seconds.

``We've had some good runs,' Earnhardt said. ``This had to be one of the few where we've had a real dominant car. I had the wick up since they dropped the first green flag.'

Winston Cup rookie Steve Park won the 1997 race with the same car.

A total of 11 cautions were called and 68 laps were run under the yellow flag. Last year's race had 10 cautions.

Nine cars were involved in a wreck on lap 2, and the race quickly turned into a disjointed mess, with the lowlight an 11-car accident on turn 4 in lap 81.

Most everyone had to deal with the cautions, including the higher-profile cars. Mark Martin, for example, was forced out of the race on a lap 134 wreck.

``We just wrecked, man,' Martin said immediately afterward.

About the only one not affected was Earnhardt, who invariably restaked his lengthy lead on the restarts. Still, he said, he didn't care to see the yellow flag.

``Any time you build on a lead you hate to see the caution flag,' Earnhardt said. ``It takes a little off your tires, slows you down and makes it that much harder the next time.'

Burton's finish was made all the more remarkable by his 22nd-place start. He passed Jimmy Spencer with three laps left.

``We didn't have anything for Junior,' Burton said, but ``I feel like we took a 20th-place car and made a second out of it, so I'm pretty proud of that.'

The race drew an estimated 58,000 fans, a track record for a Busch event.

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