Labonte fired up after Rockingham By Marty Smith ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Oct. 21, 2000) NASCAR Winston Cup Series points leader Bobby Labonte is the featured member in ESPN Magazine's "Out Takes" with Dan Patrick this month. Sunday at North Carolina...
Labonte fired up after Rockingham
By Marty Smith
ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Oct. 21, 2000) NASCAR Winston Cup Series points leader Bobby Labonte is the featured member in ESPN Magazine's "Out Takes" with Dan Patrick this month. Sunday at North Carolina Speedway, that was proven to be foreboding. Patrick is well known for his, "Dare I say, en fuego" commentary, and there is no doubt Labonte was fired up by his final pit stop Sunday afternoon at The Rock.
With 70 laps remaining in the Pop Secret 400, Labonte was running 10th when a slow leak developed in the left-rear tire of his Pontiac, the result of a pop-rivet that had lodged itself in the tire sometime during the run. Although the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac crew pieced together a solid stop, it would prove to quite untimely.
Just as Labonte reentered the track, in 25th-position no less, rookie Matt Kenseth opted to pit. As Kenseth's crew pitted the car, a small fire was started by rubber particles and spilt gasoline beneath gasman Rick Machinski's feet. Machinski immediately pulled the gas can out of the car, which spilled more gas and triggered a small explosion.
Now on fire himself, Machinski reacted by throwing the gas can, which broke at the neck when it struck the ground, spilling more gas and igniting the entire No. 17 pit area.
Subsequently, the caution flag was thrown to corral the fire and clean up pit road. Labonte was stuck a lap down without the advantage of newer tires than his competition, which was able to pit under caution.
"If we hadn't had that tire we would have picked up 50 points, maybe, so we're just very fortunate that we caught it," Labonte said. "If that caution hadn't come out we might not have been quite so bad."
Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt, who entered the race 210 points behind Labonte and second in the hunt for the championship, had solidly positioned himself in the top-10 and appeared to be well on his way to significantly slashing Labonte's lead.
He wouldn't be so fortunate. On the final run, Earnhardt's car fell off terribly, the result of what he thinks was a bad set of tires. He was only able to finish three positions ahead of Labonte, thus gaining just nine points in the standings.
"I don't know if I had a bad set of tires or a mismatched set of tires there at the end," Earnhardt said. "The car just went all to heck. It was pushing so bad I couldn't turn it. We were running pretty good there at first, but the track got tighter. It just didn't do nothing for us. There at the end, I don't know what was wrong with it. I just couldn't go anywhere."
Labonte now has to finish just 14th or better in the final three events to clinch the title. Despite the misfortune, the result could've been much worse.
"This was typical Rockingham, you never know what's going to happen," Labonte said. "We were really fortunate. We were about a seventh-place car all day. We didn't really have the right setup. That's probably the first flat tire I've had in a year and half or two years. I'm just glad I felt it, since I haven't had one in awhile."
Machinski was transported to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., for further evaluation of neck and facial burns. He was wearing a fire suit and flame retardant apron, but was not wearing a helmet. -nascar.com-