After a blistering Ford 400, Larry Foyt climbed out of the No.14 AJ Foyt Racing Harrah's Dodge with a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face.

On a sunny day at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the 26 year-old rookie finished a season high 16th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series' final race of the 2003 season. This coming after he qualified a season-high 12th on Friday.

Bobby Labonte won the race after Bill Elliott blew a tire on the last lap.

"Today was so much fun," said an exasperated Foyt. "We've been struggling all year, but we never gave up. This was a great way to end the season."

Foyt's previous best performances came in the last two races at Phoenix and Rockingham, when he finished 28th in both.

"The last three weeks have been great," Foyt said. "We've finally been able to be competitive and race guys on the track. I really need to thank Ray Evernham and Sammy Johns. They've helped us out so much this weekend and it's been a major boost."

Foyt fell behind early in the race after an accident left debris all over the track. After most of the field pitted, Foyt started to feel a problem with his right rear tire and was afraid it may have been going flat. The team pitted on the next lap, costing them a lot of track position. On the restart, Foyt was 35th.

After several green flag runs, Foyt hadn't made much progress because of a loose racecar and was fighting to stay on the lead lap.

"I felt like I was just hanging on," said Foyt. "The car really needed to be out in clean air, but we could never seem to get any in the first half of the race."

The team pitted after a caution on lap 122 of the 267-lap event, and that's when the Harrah's Dodge came alive.

"We took a rubber out of the right rear on that stop and the car was the best it had been all race long after that," said Foyt. "That's when the race got fun."

Slowly but steadily, Foyt started picking up positions and found himself in the top-20 with just over 50 laps remaining.

"That last 50 laps was a blast," said Foyt. "We were really racing hard back there and I think the right side of my car proves that. The guys in front of me knew my car could run well on the high side of the track and they did everything they could to block me."

Not only did Foyt finish a season-high 16th, but he finished on the lead lap for the first time this year without the help of NASCAR's 'lucky dog' rule, which allows the first car one lap down to regain lead-lap status after a caution.

"That was big for us," said Foyt. "Going into this race we knew if we could stay on the lead lap then we would come away with a good finish. The guys did a great job with the pit stops and I just took it from there. I'd really like to thank Harrah's for all their support this year. They've stuck with us and helped us try to turn this program around. I'm truly grateful for all their hard work."