Wheel woes for Earnhardt, Jr at Charlotte

Bobby Labonte leaped closer toward his first Winston Cup title with a thrilling win in the UAW-GM 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte. Labonte's win is his fourth of the 2000 season, and extends his championship lead to 252 points with...

Bobby Labonte leaped closer toward his first Winston Cup title with a thrilling win in the UAW-GM 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte. Labonte's win is his fourth of the 2000 season, and extends his championship lead to 252 points with five races to go. Labonte was one of 13 different leaders who swapped the top spot 46 times during the 334-lap race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was among the fastest cars all afternoon, but fell victim to loose lug nuts on the right rear wheel, causing him to make an unscheduled, green-flag pit stop. After dropping to 30th place, two laps behind the leaders, Dale Jr. fought his way back onto the lead lap, finishing 19th.

The Key Moment: Starting 13th, the red Budweiser Chevy bounded into the top 10 in less than 15 laps, and was easily among the fastest cars on the circuit until lap 95 when loose lug nuts on the right rear tire caused Dale Jr. to drop back as far as 24th place before pitting again on lap 132. With the problem corrected, it took Dale Jr. less than 40 laps to slice back through the field into fifth place by lap 169. After that, the loose wheel condition struck again (this time on the left-side), causing an unscheduled pit stop. The green-flag stop (and an additional penalty for speeding on pit lane) dropped the team to 30th place, two laps behind the leaders. The remaining laps were spent fighting back onto the lead lap, often turning lap times faster than any car on the track.

Dale Junior's Quotes: "I'm disappointed to be 19th, but I'm pretty happy that we had such a great car. That's pretty cool that we were able to make up two laps and run up front with the leaders. We weren't on the same lap, but we showed we were just as fast or faster than they were."

"I drove my [butt] off today, and it was fun. I damn near chewed through the steering wheel I was so mad about the loose wheel thing because we had a great car and we were really fast. When we were trying to get our laps back, I decided I was going to race ahead of the leaders only if I was faster. If I was holding anyone up, I would have let them go. I think we were ahead of the leaders for more than 50 laps [from lap 187 to lap 240] and then the last 20-some to get those laps back."

About the loose wheel condition: "It was hopping and skipping all over the place. The right rear just wouldn't stay under me in the corners. It would get worse if I put on the brakes. For one lap, that car felt as good when we won the Winston (NASCAR's all-star race, also held at Charlotte), but then it just started vibrating. It was a big time vibration, and I had to make that (green flag) stop or I would have crashed."

About narrowly avoiding a huge crash on lap 159 that involved multiple cars: "That was right there wasn't it? I thought about it a little bit under the caution, and I think avoiding that makes us 'even' on crashes. We went the wrong direction at New Hampshire and lost out on a top ten finish by getting caught in someone else's wreck, and so missing this one evens the score."

Dale Jr. is still 16th in the Winston Cup point standings, but remains within reasonable striking distance of finishing the season in the top 12. With a ninth-place finish, Matt Kenseth added to his lead in the rookie of the year battle with Earnhardt Jr. Kenseth now has a 24-point margin in that category. Earnhardt Jr. must score several top five finishes to have any chance of catching Kenseth.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte