FUEL GAMBLE SQUASHES SOLID FINISH FOR LABONTE AND ASK.COM TEAM AT POCONO LONG POND, Pa. (June 7, 2009) -- A fuel gamble at the end of Sunday's Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway did not produce the finish for Bobby Labonte and the No. 96 Ask.com...
FUEL GAMBLE SQUASHES SOLID FINISH FOR LABONTE AND ASK.COM TEAM AT POCONO
LONG POND, Pa. (June 7, 2009) -- A fuel gamble at the end of Sunday's Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway did not produce the finish for Bobby Labonte and the No. 96 Ask.com team after the Ford Fusion came up short by a mere half lap. Labonte coasted across the start/finish line finishing 28th for the afternoon.
After rain canceled qualifying on Friday afternoon, Labonte started yesterday's race 28th at the first points race where double-file restarts were initiated. Sunny skies had warmed the track and after taking the green flag, Labonte immediately reported the car to be loose on entrance and exit of the uniquely triangular raceway and tight in the center of the turns.
Two cautions in the first 15 laps of the race opened pit road for the field of 43 cars and Labonte came down pit road for several adjustments, fresh tires and fuel. For the first quarter of the 200-lap, 500-mile race, Labonte fought a wild race car and reported issues with the tire's grip on the track.
With 100 laps complete and one hour and 42 minutes into the Pocono 500, Labonte was passed by race leader Carl Edwards. However, the third yellow flag of the day just a handful of laps later awarded Labonte with the "Lucky Dog" pass. Labonte now still on the lead lap restarted the race 24th with 92 laps to go.
Three additional pit stops gave crew chief Ben Leslie the opportunity to make adjustments to the car, as Labonte reported the car to be handling better. With only 40 laps remaining, rain showers teased the 2.5-mile raceway and a prolonged caution presented an opportunity for teams to take a gamble on fuel mileage. Labonte, having just pitted for tires and full a few laps prior, again visited pit road for a top-off of Sunoco fuel as the field took the green flag with 35 laps to go.
The gamble worked as many race cars came down pit road for fuel as green laps continued. Labonte was scored in 17th position with 12 laps to go, posting lap times equivalent to leader and eventual race winner Tony Stewart. However, after the white flag was flown signally a final lap, Labonte reported to have run out of fuel and the No. 96 Ask.com Ford was passed by several cars as it coasted across the start/finish line to complete the race in Long Pond, Pa.
"We were so close," said Labonte. "It was all around a pretty rough day for us. We fought a wild race car there for a while. I brushed the wall once and came pretty close a couple other times. Once the clouds rolled in the car got pretty tight but I still think we had a shot at a top-12 finish with the fuel gamble everyone was taking there at the end. We were so close to being okay on fuel. It was a gamble worth taking; it's just unfortunate it didn't go our way."
The No. 96 Ask.com team will race at Labonte's favorite track, Michigan International Speedway next weekend in the LifeLock 400. TNT and MRN will carry the race live beginning at 1:30 p.m. EDT.
Michigan International Speedway (Two-mile speedway)
Sunday, June 14, 2009