LOUDON, N.H. -- With the race on the line, Dale Jarrett set aside his conscience -- and nudged his teammate toward the wall -- to earn a spot in Victory Lane.
Bumping teammate Ricky Rudd with about three laps left Sunday, Jarrett took the lead, then held off Jeff Gordon to win the New England 300 for his first victory since April.
It was a fitting way to start the second half of the season, as the top three drivers in the ultra-tight Winston Cup points race fought it out in front all day.
When it was over, Jarrett and Gordon finished the way they started -- in an unlikely dead heat. Their 2,695 points were 28 more than Rudd, who was poised to win, but got burned by a late yellow flag, then beaten by his own teammate, and finished third.
The race was decided on the 297th of 300 laps, moments after a restart that was forced when Jimmy Spencer tapped Jerry Nadeau into the wall between Turns 3 and 4 to bring out the day's 10th and final yellow flag.
After the restart, it took one lap around the flat, 1.058-mile track for Jarrett to catch his Robert Yates Racing teammate, slip inside, give a little nudge, and pass for the lead and his circuit-leading fourth victory of the year.
Did Jarrett feel any different on the restart, knowing he had a teammate in front of him?
''If I want to keep my job, it better,'' he said. ''I wanted to race him hard. If I got a run, that's what I wanted to do. But I wasn't going to knock him out of the way.''
Spencer finished fourth and Tony Stewart fifth. Coming off a victory Saturday night in a Busch Series race near St. Louis, Kevin Harvick finished eighth, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Kyle Petty, returning to the track for the first time since his son's death here last May, was never a factor, and finished 26th.
The one man who almost couldn't lose in the late-race shuffling was Yates, who brought Rudd on in 2000, and now has two cars with good chances to win the points title.
''It's pretty tough to cheer when both guys are racing,'' Yates said. ''I just want them both to be careful, and whoever's the fastest ...''
Jarrett celebrated by taking his Ford on his customary backward lap around the track. He dedicated the victory to his former teammate, Kenny Irwin, and Adam Petty, the two drivers who died last year at New Hampshire International Speedway.
''This goes to two special young men who made their mark on this sport, but would have made it better if they could have stayed around longer,'' Jarrett said. ''We remember the good things they did, and how they touched our hearts.''
In response to the deaths, NASCAR mandated restrictor plates for the last race here -- last September -- and Jeff Burton led all 300 laps in what was largely considered one of the dullest NASCAR races in ages.
The restrictor plates were off this time, but a thin, new layer of asphalt made the track very tricky, as drivers struggled to find an outside passing lane. What resulted was another less-than-thrilling race.
''I don't enjoy running single-file, follow-the-leader, then watching someone pass me on it at the end,'' Rudd said. ''On the other hand, everything was equal. It was the same environment for all 43 competitors''
Five cars skidded into the wall between Turns 1 and 2, as drivers struggled with handling all day. There were no major injuries, and the only time anyone came close was when Ron Hornaday lost control and got his two right wheels atop the edge of the wall along the back straightaway.
Other than that, the biggest excitement came just after the final restart, when Jarrett made the pass on Rudd.
''I think he sees me as just another race car on the track with 10 laps to go, and the feeling is obliged,'' Rudd said. ''If he didn't drive that hard to win races, he probably wouldn't be on Robert Yates Racing. He did what he needed to do. He raced as hard as he needed to. We did, too. There are no hard feelings.''
Rudd took the blame for the contact, and Jarrett said he saw it the same way.
''I was beside him,'' Jarrett said. ''I wasn't giving him any extra room. I don't think the contact created the pass. I was already beside him.''
Gordon passed Rudd just after Jarrett did to finish second. But to Gordon, this was a disappointment, especially considering the way he dominated the first part of the race.
He led 126 of the first 127 laps and held a 5-second margin over Jarrett, before Dave Blaney hit the wall near Turn 1 to bring out the yellow.
Gordon never led again, and despite bouncing back from 37th and 17th-place finishes the last two weeks, he felt empty.
''I'm not as happy about a second-place finish as I normally would be,'' he said. ''Last week, second would've been really good. This week, second was not something we found real gratifying.''
Jarrett won with an average speed of 102.131 mph, and his margin of victory was 0.659 seconds. He earned $238,000 for the victory, but remained tied in points because of the five extra points Gordon received for leading the most laps. Jarrett is ranked first because he has more victories this season.
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