Winston Cup points leader Bobby Labonte won a bizarre, rain-shortened running of the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway while Jeff Burton finished second and Dale Earnhardt third. In a race that saw more twists and turns than a cheap ...
Winston Cup points leader Bobby Labonte won a bizarre, rain-shortened running of the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway while Jeff Burton finished second and Dale Earnhardt third. In a race that saw more twists and turns than a cheap carnival ride at the county fair, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and red Budweiser Chevrolet led for 16 laps and finished 11th, the top-scoring rookie for the second consecutive race.
The race was stopped for more than two hours by rain on lap 37, and then slowed later by another yellow-flag period caused by light rain. The ever-changing conditions created a situation of teams aiming at a moving target: no one knew for certain when the ever-changing weather would eventually end the race. As the rain somehow held off, impending darkness seemed the most likely conclusion, but a strong deluge finally (mercifully?!) ended the action in a watery mess on lap 328 (of a scheduled 367).
Dale Jr. had run among the top 20 for the first half of the race, but a stroke of luck and/or brilliant pit strategy launched him into the lead on lap 225. The team opted to pit immediately when rain first began to fall on lap 207. Many other teams expected the race to be brought to its finale at that point due to the rain, but when the moisture dissipated, all of the other competitors were forced to pit, leaving Dale Jr. in the lead. He then led the race by as much as four seconds until the next yellow-flag pit stop on lap 240.The Bud car ran among the top five until a worsening set of tires caused the car to lurch across each turn. The team made an early pit stop on lap 292, and were able to hold onto 11th position until another deluge ended the race for good on lap 328.
"I feel like we have something to work with from this run. I am disappointed that we didn't have a better finish, and I know the team is disappointed as well, but we learned a lot and we'll be more prepared the next time we race here."
"This place is so hard - the car would be good and then all of a sudden just one little slip and the tires were killed. It was the most concentrating I have ever had to do in a race car. It was good to be that fast when we started the weekend really struggling."
"We were really good when we were leading, but we got a bad set of tires and the car got real loose - the right front was just chattering. You go along fine and then it's like 'BAM! No more grip from the right rear tire.' It's hard to change yourself to (adjust to) the track and the car - it would take me six laps to get used to what the car was going to do after each pit stop. After the stop, it would do one thing and then after a few laps it would do another and then yet another on long runs."
Southern 500 Race Notes
Dale Jr. moved up to 14th position in the Winston Cup point standings with the 11th-place finish and five bonus points for leading the race. After 24 (of 34) events this season, Dale Jr. and Bud brew crew have led eight races for a total of 394 laps
Earnhardt was the top-finishing rookie of the race for the second consecutive weekend, as Matt Kenseth was caught up in several crashes and finished 33rd. Kenseth now leads the rookie race by --- points with 10 events to go. Because of the bonus points awarded for top 10 finishes, Dale Jr. must secure a series of top five finishes to catch Matt in the final tally.
What do you do when the race is delayed for more than two hours by rain? If you're the Budweiser crew, you find the nearest satellite dish to tune into the Washington Redskins versus Charlotte Panthers football game. Most of the crew are Panthers fans, but Dale Jr. was pleased when his beloved Redskins prevailed. Then, as the afternoon wore on, the team received four large pizzas delivered directly to their pit area by the Bud marketing team.