Out-going Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte snatched a last lap win at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, passing the luckless Jerry Nadeau as the Hendrick Chevrolet ran out of fuel on the final lap.

Nadeau had been involved in a frenetic duel with Labonte and long-time leader Dale Earnhardt Jr for much of the last 100 laps, but knew that he was cutting it fine when he left the pits for the final time under caution on lap 262.

Needing a longer yellow flag period than he got, the #25 driver tried to stretch his fuel as far as it would go, and appeared to be easing off as he headed for the flag on the last of the 325 laps. Instead, it was the car backing off as it drained the tank.

This allowed Labonte, who had earlier led from lap 293 to lap 305, to sweep past and take the flag with just one turn of the race remaining. Nadeau dropped to an eventual fourth place, as Sterling Marlin and Kevin Harvick also squeezed by. Marlin had been threatening a top five finish for the final third of the race, but Harvick made ground on the final pit-stop to overhaul not only Nadeau but also Earnhardt Jr.

The pole sitter was the dominant force for much of the event, but began to wilt under pressure from Nadeau and Labonte late on. A foreign body in the Bud driver's eye then complicated matters, forcing Earnhardt to drop his pace, and resulting in an eventual seventh place finish.

The red #8 machine crossed the line behind Jeff Gordon, who sealed his fourth Winston Cup championship with sixth spot after rival Ricky Rudd hit trouble.

Rudd needed to win the race and lead most laps if he was to take the title race to next weekend's re-arranged race in New Hampshire, but struggled to get his Texaco Ford running properly and finally dropped out of the reckoning when he brushed the turn three wall and deflated a tyre.

In any case, Gordon had the situation covered, running in the top half of the field for much of the afternoon, knowing that a points finish would be enough to break the records of NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt in earning a fourth title in nine seasons, and before he broke his 30th year.

Earnhardt Jr almost fell into the clutches of Dale Jarrett, who ran with the lead group for some time before dropping away towards the end. Nevertheless, the former champion managed to close to within an ace of Earnhardt's machine by the chequered flag, heading Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton to top ten finishes.

Just five cautions blighted a day when closing on an opponent proved easier than passing him. Despite this, there were still some 13 leaders - and 23 changes at the front of the field - including the hapless Nadeau, who had started 41st after taking a provisional. Had the #25 managed to find that missing drop of fuel, Nadeau would have become the 19th different winner of the season and repeated his 2000 season Atlanta win.

It wasn't to be....