Labonte edges Stewart for NASCAR Busch Series win
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- In a green-white-checkered finish in Saturday's Aaron's 312, Bobby Labonte pushed Tony Stewart into the lead, then pulled out and passed Stewart as the two drivers approached the finish line at Talladega Superspeedway. Photos courtesy of CIA Stock Photo
In beating Stewart to the stripe by 0.052 seconds -- less than a car length -- Labonte recorded his 10th Busch Series victory and his first since Darlington in 1998. The race featured a Busch record 36 lead changes and a Busch track record 20 different leaders.
Casey Mears was third, followed by rookies David Ragan and Kyle Krisiloff. Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ward Burton, polesitter Brad Coleman and series points leader Carl Edwards claimed positions six through 10.
"Coming down through the tri-oval, I knew those guys were far enough behind us," Labonte said. "I thought, 'Well, I can push Tony to the win, or I can try it myself.' I figured if had a chance for myself, I didn't want to screw (Stewart) out of second place. So I figured we were far enough down the racetrack where if I pulled side-by-side, they wouldn't catch us."
Stewart had nothing but praise for his former Nextel Cup teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing and sometimes-teammate at Kevin Harvick Inc., which recorded its first one-two finish with Saturday's race.
"If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have been there anyway," Stewart said. "He pushed me for two solid laps and pushed me into the lead. I was so shocked and so surprised when he pulled out (to pass on the last lap) that I just started laughing."
A seven-car pileup involving Steve Wallace, Stephen Leicht, Reed Sorenson, Marcos Ambrose, Mike Bliss, Kasey Kahne and David Reutimann brought out the seventh caution of the race on Lap 110, then a red flag on Lap 112.
Labonte said he noticed that his water temperature had reached 270 degrees before the red flag period helped cool the engine. By the end of the race, Labonte's motor was cooked.
Mears was the leader, followed by Harvick, Ragan, Krisiloff and Burton, when the race restarted of Lap 115 after a 16-minute delay, but NASCAR called a caution for debris from Kasey Kahne's damaged car a lap later, forcing the green-white-checkered finish.
In the one lap of green-flag racing before the debris caution, Stewart passed Burton for fifth to set up the two-lap dash for the finish. Labonte restarted sixth, right behind Stewart.
"The 33 (Stewart) and the 77 (Labonte) had such a run there at the end that if I'd tried to block them, they would have run right through me," Mears said.