Phoenix II: Bobby Labonte race report

OVERVIEW: Kevin Harvick made it a weekend sweep after he took the checkered flag Sunday in the Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Harvick dominated the race and held off Jimmie Johnson after a late race caution setup a...

OVERVIEW:

Kevin Harvick made it a weekend sweep after he took the checkered flag Sunday in the Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Harvick dominated the race and held off Jimmie Johnson after a late race caution setup a three lap shootout. With his second place finish, Johnson extended his point lead over Matt Kenseth, who finished 13th. Kyle Petty and the No. 45 Wells Fargo Dodge team continue to garner top-25 finishes, five in a row to be exact, as they finished 25th. Bobby Labonte and the No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge crew overcame a rough afternoon to grab a respectable 27th place finish.

Petty continues his late season resurgence that has seen the No. 45 Wells Fargo Dodge crew jump back into the top-35 in owner points. Despite starting Sunday's event from the 34th position, Petty and crew chief Bill Wilburn had a positive outlook to the race. Petty, however, was unhappy with his car from the start. A tight race car was compounded by two long green flag runs. Everyone on the team remained upbeat as they are keeping focus on the top-35. Petty received the "lucky dog award" after a lap 299 caution to get back on the lead lap. When the No. 14 wrecked late in the race, the No. 45 team was able to capitalize and put some distance between themselves and the pack of cars they are racing for that coveted spot in owner points.

"We struggled today and I take the responsibility for that," sounded Petty. "But I saw a lot of character in this team today. No one quit and, as a result, we were able to walk away from Phoenix with a top-25 finish. The '14' had some trouble and that helped us in the owner points battle. With that extra cushion we can now concentrate on going to Homestead and kicking some butt."

Labonte began the race in the 15th position as a result of Friday's time trials. At the drop of the green flag, however, it was evident that something was amiss with the front-end geometry on the Betty Crocker/Cheerios Dodge Charger. To make matters worse the race began with a pair of 70 lap green flag runs, giving crew chief Paul Andrews little time to make Labonte happier behind the wheel. Loose in, tight center and loose off was the order of the day, leaving Labonte frustrated as he felt helpless to Andrews and the team. As cautions eventually began to fly late in the race, Andrews threw many changes at the No. 43 Dodge, but the problems still existed. Showing the grit that any former champion must possess, Labonte wheeled his machine to the 27th place finish, one lap down.

"Unfortunately we were off a little today," said Labonte. "We missed the setup in the front end, but we threw every adjustment we could think of at it. My guys worked their guts out today and I am very proud of them. I thought I knew what the Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge needed on each pit stop, but nothing would make the tightness go away. We'll bounce back next weekend at Homestead."

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series now heads to the Homestead-Miami Speedway for the 400 mile season finale.

-credit: pe

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Kyle Petty , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson