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
The ex-F1 driver taking on NASCAR with a new team Plus

The ex-F1 driver taking on NASCAR with a new team

Saddled with uncompetitive Minardi machinery, Tarso Marques didn't manage to score points in his three partial seasons of Formula 1. But now the Brazilian has the chance to show what he can do in NASCAR, and explains the story of his comeback with new Cup Series entrant Team Stange

Formula 1
Apr 13, 2022
The early benefits and challenges of NASCAR's Next Gen car Plus

The early benefits and challenges of NASCAR's Next Gen car

NASCAR’s new stock car generation is encouraging an influx of fresh blood into its top tier. But there are concerns that parts are in short supply as the entire paddock tries to build up stocks at the same time

NASCAR
Feb 22, 2022
How Penske's rookie sensation opened NASCAR's new era in style Plus

How Penske's rookie sensation opened NASCAR's new era in style

After holding his nerve and hip-checking his team-mate on the run to the line, Austin Cindric made a perfect start to life as a full-timer in the NASCAR Cup Series by winning the Daytona 500. Here's how the Penske Ford man emerged first across the line in the first points-scoring race for the much-anticipated Next Generation cars

NASCAR
Feb 21, 2022
Six key themes to follow in the 2022 NASCAR Cup season Plus

Six key themes to follow in the 2022 NASCAR Cup season

There are plenty of uncertainties ahead of the 2022 NASCAR Cup season as an all-new fleet of cars take to the track for the first time. Ahead of this weekend's Daytona 500, our experts explain what you need to know

NASCAR
Feb 17, 2022
How NASCAR had to learn a harsh lesson ahead of its Next Gen arrival Plus

How NASCAR had to learn a harsh lesson ahead of its Next Gen arrival

The NASCAR Cup kicks off with the Daytona 500 this weekend, but a major overhaul and a subsequent mountain of work has been required to be ready for the arrival of the Next Gen cars

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2022
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Plus

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson’s journey to the 2021 NASCAR Cup title comes straight from the Hollywood blockbuster scripts. While Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines for both the right and the wrong reasons

NASCAR
Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Plus

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup Series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

NASCAR
Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Plus

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

NASCAR
Oct 5, 2021