Throughout the weekend, excessive tire wear had been the hot-button topic on the minds of everyone in the garage area. Most teams could only run 8-10 green flag laps before the right side tires began to wear to the point of failure. Several ...
Throughout the weekend, excessive tire wear had been the hot-button topic on the minds of everyone in the garage area. Most teams could only run 8-10 green flag laps before the right side tires began to wear to the point of failure. Several factors are believed to have contributed to this, including the debut of the new chassis on the 99-year-old racetrack and a diamond-grinding process, similar to the "levigation" that took place at Lowe's (N.C.) Motor Speedway a few years ago, that gives the racing surface maximum grip.
The result was a race where "competition" cautions were scheduled roughly 10 laps apart so that teams could asses their tire wear. Only six "competition" cautions were used because normal cautions for accidents, or blown motors, occurred inside this 10 lap window.
Bobby Labonte and the No. 43 Cheerios Racing/Totino's Dodge team came home in the 16th position in Sunday's race. B. Labonte, the 2000 winner of this race, started from the 27th position. His No. 43 Dodge saw the most tire wear on the right rear tire, meaning the car was 'loose.' Early in the event, crew chief Jeff Meendering decided to alternate between two- and four-tire stops to keep the valuable track position game in their favor. However, on lap 97, B. Labonte felt his right front tire giving up and quickly pulled down pit road for service. Pit road was closed at this time, and he was caught for speeding upon entry, meaning he would restart at the end of the line of lead lap cars in 35th place. He did an outstanding job in driving his was up to his finishing position of 16th.
"It was a wild race out there, without a doubt," said B. Labonte. "You had to pick when you wanted to race hard to pass someone and the rest of the time you just had to bide your time to save your tires. We knew this would be the case going in and NASCAR did a great job with what they had. My car was actually handling pretty good. It was just a little loose, but I was happy with the balance. My pit crew has to get a lot of credit today. This was the most consistently fast day we've had all year on pit road. They picked up a lot of positions for me."
Terry Labonte and the No. 45 Marathon American Spirit Motor Oil Dodge team finished the 400-miler in the 27th position. Unlike his brother, T. Labonte saw the most tire wear on his right front tire, meaning his was 'tight,' but he was also happy with the overall balance of the car. This was evident by the fact that he made the third-most green flag passes of anyone in the 43-car field.
"That was one of the strangest races that I have been a part of," sounded T. Labonte. "You have to give NASCAR credit, though, because they did the best job that they could. 8-10 laps were all we could do. They did try to stretch it for a few laps one time, but the '17' car exploded a right rear tire. Our car was fast. I could make passes when I needed to. It was just hard to get in a rhythm because we had to stop so much."