Bobby Labonte and the No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge team finished 26th in Sunday's race. Labonte was looking to add to his career totals of six wins and 12 top-five finishes at Atlanta. As the race began, Labonte radioed to crew chief Jeff...
Bobby Labonte and the No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge team finished 26th in Sunday's race. Labonte was looking to add to his career totals of six wins and 12 top-five finishes at Atlanta. As the race began, Labonte radioed to crew chief Jeff Meendering that car was 'loose' getting into the corners with no forward 'bite.' Atlanta's aging asphalt has very little grip and that will magnify a 'loose' or 'tight' condition. Meendering built a lot of adjustability into the car, which gave him many options to try to fix the handling condition to Labonte's liking. When it looked as though the condition was improving, Labonte was tapped by another competitor in the right front fender on lap 257. This drastically altered the aerodynamics of the car and made it very 'tight' in the middle of the corners. Labonte was still able to pick up several spots late in the race to finish as the seventh best 'closer' of the day, as determined by the NASCAR loop data.
"We were off today, just really sliding around a lot," said Labonte. "There were a lot of us sliding around. I had to run the bottom and you need to be able to move your line around here. The best part of racing here is that you can try different lines. We definitely made a lot of adjustments, but the car was basically the same until the fender was knocked in."
Chad McCumbee and the No. 45 Marathon American Spirit Motor Oil Dodge team took the checkered flag in the 36th position on Sunday. McCumbee was making his Sprint Cup debut at Atlanta this weekend. Like his teammate, he was 'loose' in and off of the corners, but also 'tight' in the center. The adjustments from crew chief Stewart Cooper would fix one or two of the problems, but not all three. McCumbee finished 15th in Saturday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Atlanta and that experience helped him as he searched for the best line around the track for his No. 45 Dodge. The chassis condition just never improved enough for him to make a move toward the front.
"We couldn't find the right balance today," said McCumbee. "If we worked on the entry and exit, it would make the center of the corner worse and vice versa. It was a long day. If you're just a little bit off here, the surface is so abrasive that it makes it worse. We'll take the car back to the shop and we'll go over it to see what went wrong."