LATE-RACE ACCIDENT RELEGATES LABONTE AND NO. 96 DLP FORD FUSION TEAM TO 36TH-PLACE FINISH AT POCONO Heavy rain all day Sunday forced NASCAR officials to delay the start of the Pennsylvania 500 by a day. After a long day of waiting, teams...
LATE-RACE ACCIDENT RELEGATES LABONTE AND NO. 96 DLP FORD FUSION TEAM TO 36TH-PLACE FINISH AT POCONO
Heavy rain all day Sunday forced NASCAR officials to delay the start of the Pennsylvania 500 by a day. After a long day of waiting, teams left the track Sunday afternoon only to return on Monday morning for a 12:00 noon start. Since rain also cancelled qualifying, the starting grid was set according to the NASCAR rule book with Bobby Labonte and the No. 96 DLP Ford Fusion starting Monday's race 28th. From the drop of the green flag, Labonte reported a loose handling No. 96 and through a series of scheduled pit stops the DLP crew would work to correct the issues. As Labonte became seemingly pleased with the handling of his Ford, he was rear-ended by another competitor. The damage incurred from the accident was terminal and Labonte's race would end on lap 180 -- he ultimately finished in 36th-place.
The green flag waved and Jimmie Johnson led the field into turn one at Pocono (points leader Tony Stewart was forced to start at the back due to a car change). Before one lap was complete around the 2.5-mile track, Labonte reported that his No. 96 was "free on entry", however Labonte would not see pit road until lap 20 when NASCAR threw a competition caution. Labonte entered pit road in 30th position and crew chief Ben Leslie was extremely aggressive with the first set of adjustments. Besides four tires and fuel, the No. 96 crew unhooked the rear sway bar on Labonte's Ford and also inserted three spring rubbers. Labonte was scored in 35th place when green flag racing resumed on lap 25.
The adjustments may have been too aggressive, as Labonte reported being "too tight" over the next run. But another pit stop on lap 52 seemed to help and Labonte was turning laps comparable to the leaders. Team 96 continued to tweak on Labonte's Ford for the remainder of the race and managed to get the DLP Ford up to seventh place on lap 170.
But, the success would be short-lived for the No. 96 team. Just after a restart on lap 177, Labonte was racing hard with several competitors when his Ford was tagged from behind and left lifeless on the track and Labonte's day was over on lap 180. He finished the race 36th.
"Yeah, I'm alright," Labonte said after the lap 180 accident. "It's just hard racing that goes on out there, and we just sort of ended up on the short end of it, so that was unfortunate. We had an up-and-down day, and it was just one of those things where you could be running 30th and have the same speed as the 12th-place car sometimes, you know, but you can't get there. So, we opted for some track position, and we got ourselves some track position -- we were going to maintain there, probably, for a little bit -- a couple of caution flags didn't help us, but I guess that's the way it goes."
Denny Hamlin ended a 50-race winless skid Monday, holding off Juan Pablo Montoya over the final laps at Pocono Raceway. Hamlin won for the third time in eight career starts at the triangle track. Clint Bowyer was third. Sam Hornish Jr. was fourth for his best finish in a Cup car, and Kasey Kahne was fifth.