CONCORD, N.C. (AP) -- Bobby Labonte doesn't like to talk about the championship. But as he closes in on it, everyone seems to ask him about it.
He moved a step closer to winning his first Winston Cup title Sunday when he won his fourth race of the season and opened up the biggest lead this year in the points race.
"Until we get handed something or sent something in the mail signed, sealed and delivered, we've still got a lot to worry about and a lot to go," Labonte said. "That's why we don't talk about the points race."
Instead, the usual businesslike Labonte whispered inside jokes to crew chief Jimmy Makar as the two laughed together in celebration of the outcome of the UAW-GM Quality 500.
"When you win you have fun, and when you have fun you win," Labonte said. "We're just enjoying life right now. It's not going to be like this forever, so we'll enjoy it while it lasts."
Labonte won by persuading Makar to give him four fresh tires on the final pit stop 25 laps before the finish Sunday.
Leader Jeremy Mayfield was only taking two tires, but Labonte still wanted four -- thus resulting in a longer pit stop.
But the gamble paid off when he motored his Pontiac past Mayfield with six laps to go to beat the Ford to the finish line at Lowe's Motor Speedway by 1.166 seconds.
Makar never doubted his driver's decision to take on four new tires, even though five of the cars racing in the Top 10 took only two.
"He's a great little race car driver, he never gives up," Makar said. "He's always thinking, always digging, he just never gives up on anything."
With the win, Labonte opened the lead to 252 points. He needs only to finish ninth or better in each of the remaining five races to win the championship regardless of how any other driver does.
Mayfield finished second, and was followed by Ricky Rudd, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin in a race that had a season-high 46 lead changes among 13 drivers.
The track record for lead changes was 47, set in 1974, and the previous season high was 30 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.
Jeff Burton finished sixth to flip spots with Dale Earnhardt in the race to catch Labonte in the standings. Earnhardt, now third, finished 11th to fall 258 points behind Labonte.
"Some of our closest competitors didn't have as good a day as we did, so you really have to be thankful because the roles could be reversed at another race track," Labonte said.
A feared tire shortage never came into play because Goodyear provided two truckloads of new rubber before the start of the race.
Goodyear initially thought it might not have enough tires on hand because hundreds had been thrown away after failing a quality-control test. But each team had the standard nine sets of tires when the green flag dropped.
The abundance did nothing to help Mayfield, who chose not to use the extras on the final pit stop.
"It was a last-minute decision," Mayfield said. "We felt like there were so many cars on the lead lap that a lot of guys were going to put on two. We felt like if you put on four and lost track position, you weren't going to win the race."
Dale Jarrett's hopes for a second straight championship were all but lost on the 159th of 334 laps. Jarrett was running ninth when Rusty Wallace tapped the rear of his car and sent him spinning into the wall heading into turn four.
"I can't describe the frustration," Jarrett said. "You know, you work hard and you get a good race car and then things don't go your way."
His car was heavily damaged and was towed off the track. Jarrett, who trailed Labonte by 251 points before the race, finished 40th and now trails him by 388.
With only five races remaining, Jarrett now has almost no shot at catching Labonte. Asked if he was out of the points race, Jarrett said: "I'd pretty much say so, yeah."
Defending race champion Jeff Gordon, the polesitter, also was knocked out in that accident. He couldn't avoid hitting Jarrett as he tried to maneuver through the traffic and finished 39th.
"I just saw someone spinning ahead of me," Gordon said. "I expected it all to slide to the bottom, but there was nothing but smoke so I couldn't see anything."
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