Darlington: Bobby Labonte race report

LABONTE KEEPS ACADEMY TEAM OUT OF TROUBLE IN DARLINGTON, FINISHES 18TH DARLINGTON, S.C. (May 9, 2009) -- Bobby Labonte and the No. 96 Academy Sports + Outdoors team raced their way to a top-20 finish in yesterday's Southern 500 at Darlington ...

LABONTE KEEPS ACADEMY TEAM OUT OF TROUBLE IN DARLINGTON, FINISHES 18TH

DARLINGTON, S.C. (May 9, 2009) -- Bobby Labonte and the No. 96 Academy Sports + Outdoors team raced their way to a top-20 finish in yesterday's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Changes to the Ford Fusion throughout the 17-caution, four-hour and 11-minute event gave Labonte track position for the Lucky Dog award and the opportunity to race his way to a solid 18th-place finish Saturday night.

Darlington's historical significance brought drivers -- young and old -- to the driver introduction stage for a special ceremony dedicated to drivers who have won at Darlington since its construction 60 years ago. Labonte joined legends such as Carl Yarborough on stage for the ceremony. He then climbed into the Academy Sports + Outdoors Ford Fusion for the second time this season at the raceway with the reputation of being 'too tough to tame.' After reporting the car to be tight during qualifying, Labonte began the 367-lap race in 27th position under sunny skies in front of a crowd of 72,000 fans.

With fellow Ford Racing driver, Matt Kenseth, on the pole, the Academy Sports + Outdoors team had high hopes as Labonte took the green flag at 7:20 p.m. After an early caution at lap 4, Labonte radioed to crew chief, Ben Leslie, that the car was tight and a scraping splitter left him unable to turn the wheel in turn 4. Leslie brought Labonte down pit road for a splitter adjustment and four tires. One of few cars to pit so early in the event, Labonte restarted in 42nd position.

Labonte continued to race for track position from the back of the field. Leslie radioed words of encouragement as Labonte began to pass cars one by one. By lap 50 the No. 96 was scored in 25th position but Labonte reported the car to be getting tighter as the track cooled.

A strategic move by Leslie at lap 121 allowed Labonte to lead a lap, giving the Academy Sports + Outdoors team five bonus points. After leading the lap, Labonte came down pit road for four tires, fuel and several adjustments in an effort to make the car easier to turn. The No. 96 took the green flag again at lap 123 and was scored as the last car on the lead lap in 27th position.

With 233 laps to go in the Southern 500, Labonte was passed by race leader and fellow Ford Racing driver, Greg Biffle. On a night filled with cautions, Labonte kept racing for the Lucky Dog award. A scare at lap 229 came for the No. 96 team when a bump from David Reutimann that put the Ford Fusion against the wall. Labonte would regain control of the car and pass Reutimann.

After 10 attempts to be the first car, one lap down, Labonte was awarded the Lucky Dog and restarted on the lead lap with only 42 laps to go. Leslie's adjustments to the Academy Sports + Outdoors Ford proved useful as Labonte began passing cars on the lead lap. He would gain six positions on the field and finish 18th for the day.

"It was a tough night and I'm tired," said Labonte. "I was pleased where we ended up tonight. I gave it all I had. It was a tough car to drive and I think we salvaged one here tonight. That car was so tight, I hope we can get a handle on that for next week in Charlotte."

Labonte and the No. 96 Ask.com team will race next Saturday night in the famed NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

-credit: hofr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Greg Biffle , David Reutimann