Lepage Claims First Rookie of the Race Award, Finishes 28th in Las Vegas 400
3 March 1998LAS VEGAS, NV-With a 28th place finish in the Las Vegas 400 here Sunday, L J Racing pilot, Kevin Lepage, claimed his first Raybestos Rookie of the Race award, and moved into 3rd place in the Rookie of the Year race, only 1 point away from second. Lepage battled hard all race, at times even running with the race leaders.
The inaugural Las Vegas 400 concluded an exciting week in Las Vegas for the L J Racing team. On Saturday morning the team elected to stand on their first round qualifying speed. The team held their collective breath as 15 drivers attempted to go faster than Lepage in the second round, only 2 were successful and Lepage settled in for the 35th starting spot in the race. Lepage held the distinction of being the only rookie to qualify for the event based on time, one rookie received a provisional based on his car owner's points from last season, and the other two rookie candidates failed to qualify. Crew chief Doug Richert and his hard-working crew then began preparations for the final hour of practice and the race.
As the race began before a sellout crowd of over 100,000 race fans, Lepage began to pass cars, moving up to the 28th position by lap 35 of 267. On lap 62, Lepage made his way onto pit road for his first pit stop for fresh Goodyear tires and Unocal gasoline. Returning to the race, Lepage continued to race hard for every position and with each pit stop, the team would make adjustments to improve the handling on the L J Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Lepage continued on, racing for every position until the final lap. As he received the checkered flag, Lepage was in 28th place and the highest finishing rookie. The L J Racing Chevrolet was also the 8th highest finisher among all Chevrolets in the race.
"We really gave a total team effort in the race today and all weekend," Lepage said. "Our guys worked hard after last week's setback in Rockingham and they improved the car every time they touched it this weekend, they are a great bunch of guys."
"It's a special feeling to win the rookie of the race award for the first ever race here in Las Vegas," Lepage said. "I sure hope we can find a primary sponsor soon, so we can keep running for the rookie title, I believe I can be a major player in the race."
Mark Martin led teammate Jeff Burton across the finish line to pick up the victory and a $313,000 payday.
The L J Racing team will now head to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for Sunday's running of the Primestar 500 at 1:00pm EST. Lepage made his 3rd career Winston Cup start in Atlanta.