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Labonte one step
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They keep goin and goin and goinů.oops wrong battery, but the right driver. Bobby Labonte wins the UAW GM Quality 500. Labonte and Frankenstein who rode with the number 18 Pontiac, took the lead for the final time on lap 328 at the beautiful Lowes Motor Speedway. Labonte, who ran up front all day, methodically picked his way through traffic after the races final caution on lap 306, coming from 5th. Once Labonte passed the leaders teammate, Rusty Wallace, I watched as Labonte caught and passed Jeremy Mayfield who only took on two tires. Bobby Labonte had struggled in Saturdays Happy Hour with the 30th fastest time but rebounded with a strong car all Sunday long. When the checkers fell Labonte, Joe Gibbs, and Interstate Battery's moved closer to their first Winston Cup Championship.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. showed early that he would be a factor before this race was over. Dale started the race from the 37th position and by lap 28 was 21st. The second caution of the day came out on lap33 for debris. All of the leaders came down pit road for 4 tires and fuel. NASCAR made it clear early that there would be no speeding on pit road, when they handed out the day's first speed penalty to Johnny Benson and Jimmy Spencer.
When we went back to racing on lap 38, it was Bobby Labonte, Ricky Rudd, and Jeremy Mayfield in the top spots. Ricky Rudd would soon move around the Interstate Pontiac and into the lead and then just as fast back to 2nd, maybe a courteous move by Bobby Labonte to allow Ricky to gain some valuable bonus points for leading the race. Rusty Wallace was coming toward the front from a 22nd starting spot and with some good pit work had the lead by lap 55. Wallace looked to be the car to beat. By lap 64 it was the Penske show with Rusty and Jeremy up front. On lap 64, there was not a bent leg in the house as the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet went 3 wide with Jerry Nadeau and Ward Burton into turn 4. I know if the fans could see inside the number 3 car, they would see Earnhardt with a smile on his face a mile and a half wide. He loves 3 wide racing anywhere.
On lap 78, Rusty Wallace peeled off of turn 4 and onto pit road, it was a flat right front tire. 3 Laps later Jeremy came in as well for 4 tires and gas. Roger Penske now had both of his horses 1 lap down. The 3rd caution would come out on lap 89 when Kenney Wallace had a meeting with the wall between turns 3 and 4. The complaints were the same up and down pit road, the car is tight! During this caution, Todd Bodine got some seat time in his 2001 ride when he sub'd for Darrell Waltrip. Darrell complained of a problem with his shoulder that he received during a brush with the wall in Saturday's happy hour.
When the green flag unfurled again, it was the Intimidator out in front, followed by Jeff Burton, Frankenstein, and Rudd. Rusty and Jeremy lined up on the inside for the restart and when the green flew, so did Rusty. He passed Earnhardt and opened up a huge lead. He was now praying for a caution. He came on the radio on lap 126 lobbying to
NASCAR for a caution for debris, good try Rusty, but they weren't going for it. Wallace's prayers were answered on lap 130 for the days 4th caution. The 5th caution came out on lap
144 when Nadeau and Kurt Busch get together. None of the leaders would pit. Jeff Burton would become an electronic technician during this caution after loosing his radio communication with his pit crew. When Burton came into pit, the crew tossed in a radio and told Jeff to work on it when he could. I finally heard him come across to the crew and after the race I asked him what he did he said, "the crew threw in the radio and I worked on it for awhile, finally I got it". The restart came on lap 149. Incredibly, Steve
Park was up to the 4th position. This after an incident that his boss said should have killed his day.
On lap 306, Wally Dallenbach would hit the wall. This would bring the leaders to pit road. Most took on 4 tires but not the man who came out first, Mayfield only attached 2. On the restart it would be Mayfield, Martin, Kenseth, and Nemechek. Could Kenseth repeat his spring performance and win in the Fall at Lowes?
On lap 321, Bobby Labonte would take the 2nd spot from Mark Martin. He then had the Penske Boys to contend with. Would Rusty "accidentally" get in Labonte's way while Jeremy went for the win? No! When Bobby came up to the number 2 Ford, Rusty moved up and let him go. Labonte would catch and pass the 2 tire Mayfield on lap 328. Labonte would never look back. He did finally slow down, only to pull into Victory lane.
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