Labonte win moves him one step closer to title

The chase for the NASCAR Winston Cup championship took another turn at Charlotte as a series of mishaps - some possibly due to questionable Goodyear tyres - made for a very hotly-contested race

Labonte win moves him one step closer to title

How hot? The field set the 2000 record for lead changes with 141 laps of racing left. In all there were 46 changes (one short of the 1974 all-time record) involving 13 drivers - virtually a third of the field.

But it's the last pass for the lead that counts, and that was performed by points-leader Bobby Labonte with seven of 334 laps remaining. He beat Jeremy Mayfield, Ricky Rudd, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin into the minor places after gambling on a late four-tyre change.

Mayfield was the highest top-five finisher who elected to take just two tyres in a caution with 24 laps to go. Martin, Matt Kenseth (ninth) and Joe Nemechek (14th) tried two and led the field into its final restart.

Labonte's quest for his first Winston Cup seems assured, as he extended his lead over Jeff Burton to 252 points, Dale Earnhardt 258 and a hard luck-hit Dale Jarrett to 388.

"I think it was over at Dover," said Burton, who credited Labonte for
putting together a near-perfect season, tying his team-mate Stewart with four wins.

At one time the 500-miler promised to be a contest of the points leaders, as the top four paced the field. But Jarrett's Ford got pushed into the wall by Rusty Wallace on lap 159 as Wallace attempted to recover from a cut tyre that put him a lap down for a time. Polesitter Jeff Gordon saw his race end in the pile-up that followed. Jarrett has diced for the runner-up spot in the points with Earnhardt and Burton for most of the season.

Earnhardt and Burton didn't make the race any easier for themselves, taking provisional starting spots at the rear of the field after lousy qualifying. On a mission, the 'Intimidator" had a scrapbook moment on lap 67 when he passed two cars in treacherous turn four to break into the top five.

But pit road is the great equalizer. Earnhardt's "Flying Aces" performed a four-tyre and fuel stop in an unofficial and astonishing 12.9 seconds, and the seven-time champ took the lead to a lusty roar of cheers on lap 77. Burton got by to pace the field two laps later, but Earnhardt's bunch got him out first a handful of times, and always in the top five.

Labonte, Rudd, Stewart and Mayfield were the other race hotshoes. Rudd has yet to win for Robert Yates Racing, but took command in the late laps with no serious competition but Stewart. He ultimately led most laps, with Earnhardt second in that class.

Goodyear discovered much of its race tyres stockpile didn't pass muster earlier in the week and ordered the Busch series cars to turn over their right side rubber to the senior circuit. The Busch cars ran a tyre designed for Dover and all hoped the problem was solved. It wasn't, and Goodyear cautioned crews in the driver's meeting, according to Kenny Wallace, who found the wall thanks to a blown right front early in the race. Others forced to pit early and lose track position included Bill Elliott, Earnhardt Jr and Wallace. Every team reported inconsistent performance.

The issue surfaces in the same week NASCAR outlawed the notion of a
tyre-testing device in the race garages. Citing the so-called "rebound"
machine as too costly for fair competition among underfunded teams, NASCAR helped ignite an issue brewing since the Dover race. Earnhardt ran a dominant pace there, but fell deep into the field after his last pit stop, complaining of "a bad set of tyres." Goodyear's midweek embarrassment in announcing an unspecified issue was a telling fumble.

shares
comments
Gordon edges Labonte for Lowe’s pole

Previous article

Gordon edges Labonte for Lowe’s pole

Next article

Nemechek wins Bud Pole

Nemechek wins Bud Pole
Load comments
The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin Plus

The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin

A multiple F3000 race winner, Marc Goossens was on the precipice of making Formula 1 in the 1990s - but a lack of budget left him without a path to the promised land. Turning to an illustrious racing career in sportscars, Goossens left the endurance circuit to try his hand at racing stock cars - and now calls the NASCAR Euro Series home

NASCAR
Jul 1, 2021
Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR Plus

Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR

There has never been a full-time British driver in the NASCAR Cup. But Alex Sedgwick, who is rising through the stock car ranks, wants that to change and could be a trailblazer for European talents to reach the top echelons of the NASCAR ladder

NASCAR
Feb 28, 2021
How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport Plus

How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport

It's 20 years since legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Sr died at the Daytona 500, but the legacy of his crash continues today through the pioneering safety work done by NASCAR

NASCAR
Feb 18, 2021
The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021 Plus

The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season

NASCAR
Feb 12, 2021
How a second-chance NASCAR ace is rebuilding his career Plus

How a second-chance NASCAR ace is rebuilding his career

From a disgraced NASCAR exile, Kyle Larson has been given a shot at redemption by the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports squad. Replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is no easy billing, but Larson has every intention of repaying the team's faith

NASCAR
Feb 11, 2021
Autosport's top 5 NASCAR machines Plus

Autosport's top 5 NASCAR machines

The American stock car scene is more famous for its close racing and occasional punch-ups, but there have been some fantastic machines too. As part of Autosport's 70th anniversary celebrations in 2020, we picked out five of its best

NASCAR
Jan 3, 2021
Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started Plus

Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started

Chase Elliott's late charge to the 2020 NASCAR Cup title defied predictions that it would be a Kevin Harvick versus Denny Hamlin showdown. While the two veterans are showing no signs of slowing down, Elliott's triumph was a window into NASCAR's future

NASCAR
Nov 17, 2020
Why Johnson’s playoff failure won’t tarnish his legacy Plus

Why Johnson’s playoff failure won’t tarnish his legacy

The last season of a retiring NASCAR great has shown promise, and may have resulted in another playoff push without small issues outside his control. 2020 won't be the year Jimmie Johnson would have wanted, but it won't be what he is remembered for

NASCAR
Sep 3, 2020