Bristol Hard on the Injured

Bristol no thrill ride for the injured By Shawn A. Akers BRISTOL, Tenn. (April 6, 1999) After a hard crash at Texas, Jeff Gordon says he was "fortunate that nothing was cracked, chipped or broken." Under normal circumstances, racing at ...

Bristol no thrill ride for the injured By Shawn A. Akers

BRISTOL, Tenn. (April 6, 1999) After a hard crash at Texas, Jeff Gordon says he was "fortunate that nothing was cracked, chipped or broken." Under normal circumstances, racing at Bristol Motor Speedway is certainly no amusement park ride. But when a driver is injured, especially an upper-body injury, a race there can seem like 500 laps of pure misery. The high banks of the "World's Fastest Half Mile" are grueling for even the healthiest of drivers, but their doubly-tough on those who are still trying to recover from previous misfortunes.

But that's what drivers like Mike Skinner and Bobby Labonte will have to deal with this weekend when the NASCAR Winston Cup Series heads to Bristol for Sunday's Food City 500. The only consolation they have is that they've had nearly two weeks since the PRIMESTAR 500 at Texas Motor Speedway to mend from their ailments.

Skinner suffered a fractured shoulder blade during the PRIMESTAR 500 on March 28. Labonte has had longer to heal, having suffered a broken shoulder blade tip during a wreck in practice at Darlington Raceway on March 19.

"To have any kind of injury at all, it's (Bristol) the toughest track we go to," said Larry McReynolds, crew chief of Skinner's No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet. "With the high banks, you have to stay on top of the wheel all of the time, just like you're qualifying, for 500 laps. It's a very harsh ride, and it's a rough race track.

"Mike will have to pull his straps tight, and by the end of the day, there will be places on him that might hurt that he may not even know that he had. Bristol is tough enough as it is, but Mike has to endure that for 500 laps."

McReynolds said Skinner will start the race in order for him to accumulate the valuable points, but the team will also have a driver standing by to take over for Skinner in case he can't go the entire 266.5 miles. They'll also have that driver, whoever it is, practice in the No. 31 Chevrolet on Friday and Saturday.

McReynolds said it will be crucial for Skinner to get a good starting position, and the team is placing heavy emphasis on Friday's Bud Pole Qualifying effort.

"At Bristol, if you start at the tail end of the pack, you're almost a half lap down when the race starts," McReynolds said. "And it's really hard to change drivers at Bristol, even under caution, and not lose a lap. If you're changing under green, you might as well forget it.

"Mike's got a good attitude about it all, and he won't try to be a tough man if things aren't right. It's about being smart or dumb, and I know Mike will be smart about his health and not risk anything this weekend. If he's running good, then that has a way to take away the pain. But if he's not running good, that has a way of intensifying it."

After a couple of weeks at the top of the series standings, Skinner has fallen all the way to 9th following wrecks at both Darlington and Texas.

Labonte has had nearly three weeks to recover from his injury, despite the fact that he did run the entire PRIMESTAR 500 at Texas, where he courageously finished 3rd. He drove the first 45 laps or so at Darlington in the TranSouth Financial 400 just after the injury, then was replaced by Matt Kenseth, who brought the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac home 10th in that event.

Labonte is currently second in the standings behind Jeff Burton, a two-time winner this year.

"It's like I tell the guys, great race teams are measured by how they handle their adversities," said Jimmy Makar, crew chief for Labonte's No. 18 Pontiac. "As long as things are going well, anybody can do well. But when you're dealt a deal like this and can make good on it and not lose too much in the points, that's what makes great race teams. I feel like this team has handled those two races with a lot of class and with as much tenacity as you can ask for, especially from the driver (Labonte)."

Jeff Gordon suffered a hard crash at Texas as well. He didn't come away from that accident with any major injuries, just some bruises. He and his wife, Brooke, were to get away on a vacation this past week during the Easter weekend before coming back to prepare for the Food City 500.

"I'm feeling much better," said Gordon, driver of the DuPont Refinishes Chevrolet. "My ribs are still a little bit sore and I can feel it mostly when I take a deep breath. I feel fortunate that nothing was cracked, chipped or broken. I've just been sore.

"I'm ready for Bristol, though. I won't need a relief driver or anything like that this weekend. A test at Greenville-Pickens Speedway on Wednesday will hopefully prove useful to us on Sunday. We hope that we can find a way to help protect my ribs while I'm in the car."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Mike Skinner