Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

Labonte one step closer, 
wins UAW-GM Quality 500

By Jon Osborne
October 8, 2000


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In the end Jeremy Mayfield had to settle for 2nd place, his Ford no match for Labonte's Pontiac on four new tires.  Photo Credit: MSI / Brian Czobat

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.

At the start of the race, the skies were overcast and the temperature was cold, the ingredients for speed. The front row had a former Winston Cup Champion and very possibly a near future Winston Cup Champion. Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte brought the 43-car field to the green flag. Gordon would lead the first lap. It was obvious right from the start that the cool temperature quickly afforded the drivers a second groove in which to work.

The first caution didn't take long when Mike Bliss hit the wall in turns 3 and 4 on lap 6. Also involved in trying to avoid the incident were Steve Park with right rear damage, Terry Labonte with heavy damage, and Hutt Stricklin. I was talking to Dale Earnhardt (Steve's car owner) on Saturday, and I asked Dale about the effects of getting into an incident here at Lowes, he said, "if you get into even a minor mishap here, it will kill your whole day". Dale better be glad that Steve Park did not hear this. None of the leaders would pit this time. The green came out again on lap 12, with Jerry Nadeau, Bobby Labonte, and Jeff Gordon showing the way. 

Jeff Burton battles Dale Earnhardt and race winner Bobby Labonte.  Photo Credit: MSI / Brian Czobat

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. 

Jeff Burton leads brother Ward and Earnhardt Jr. on his way to finishing 6th at Charlotte.  Photo Credit: MSI / Brian Czobat

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.

The 6th caution would be shown to the field when Rusty Wallace got together with Dale and some would say ended the hopes of Jarrett for a second straight Championship. This incident would also cause the front end of the DuPont Chevy to become relatively shorter, when Gordon tried what he learned from The Days of Thunder and Drove through the smoke. It did not work this time. All the leaders would pit. When they emerged from pit road it was the 3, 28, 20, and18. The green was seen on lap 167.

Rudd would show the way before the train got back to the stripe. Again, the yellow came out on lap 183 when Robby Gordon and the Wolfman hit the turn 2 wall. All of the leaders came to pit road. When the green came back on lap 187, Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, and Tony Stewart would lead them down. Hats, or should I say helmets off to Mayfield when after being a lap down earlier would claw his way back to the lead on lap 203.

Earnhardt would start a slide backwards and on lap 231 he was 13th due to his tires going away. The leaders would start green flag pit stops on lap 243 and when complete Ricky Rudd and Jeremy Mayfield were out entered pit road. On lap 270 the McDonalds Ford was showing heavy smoke when it entered pit road. Elliott's bad luck at Charlotte would continue when his engine expired and the oil from the failed engine would, yes, bring out another caution. When the pit stops concluded it was Rudd, Mayfield, and Stewart out first. On lap 281 the race would continue.

Robby Gordon and Matt Kenseth battle it out at Charlotte. Kenseth finished 9th while Gordon ended up in 38th place.  Photo Credit: MSI / Brian Czobat

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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