News & Media


Labonte all smiles after 'strong run' at Bristol

March 20, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Bobby Labonte survived 500 punishing laps at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday -- including a 360-degree spin -- and still was able to wear a weary grin at the end of it all. Having a great car and posting his best finish at Bristol in four years was perhaps a major reason for Labonte's ability to break out in a smile.

If not for a rash of cautions in the final 75 laps, Labonte might have been looking at his second top-10 finish of the season and first at Bristol since he finished eighth in the 2007 night race for Richard Petty. Instead, he eventually slipped out of the top 10 and wound up 13th. He and Mark Martin had a spirited battle for 12th in the final laps, with Martin edging him by a bumper at the finish line.

"It was a good, strong run for us. We beat a lot of good cars today. "

--BOBBY LABONTE

Still, Labonte will take it, particularly since Bristol has been one of his most difficult tracks. In 37 career Bristol starts, he has just 10 top-10 finishes.

"It was a good, strong run for us," Labonte said. "We beat a lot of good cars today. We got too tight there at the end. We just really didn't get the car freed up enough at the end. But it was so hard to pass. Track position meant so much."

Team owner Brad Daugherty was ecstatic with Labonte's performance.

"We were really good on long runs," Daugherty said. "If we could have had about another 60-lap run, I think we were a top-five race car. That one pit stop was a bit off but Bobby did a great job, kept the car clean."

That almost wasn't the case on Lap 247. Labonte was battling with the top-10 cars of Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Menard when he spun out in Turn 4. He kept it off the wall, completed the spin with the car pointed in the right direction, and drove away without losing more than one or two positions.

"I was passing somebody and I ran up on [Martin Truex Jr.]," Labonte said. "He had a tire go down, they said. He just stopped. And I just hit the brakes so hard, I popped the right tires loose.

"I got underneath and I just held it wide open, did a 360, lost a spot but kept going. It was a miracle we didn't get torn up there."

Daugherty had a chance to ask his driver about the incident.

"He did a 360," Daugherty said. "He said he hadn't done one of those in a long time. I'm glad he didn't hit anything. He was really moving forward. He was running eighth when he got spun. But it was a good day for us."

Restarts were an issue for Labonte, because the car didn't seem to respond until the tires had a few laps on them. That was great early on, because there were two stretches of 100-plus laps under green. However, that played against Labonte at the end.

"We just had a little bit of an issue with going on the green-flag runs," Labonte said. "The guys did a really good job, though, for no more practice than we had on this tire. And I just got passed right there at the end by an inch by Mark [Martin]. He eased me up there a little bit, but I'll get him back."

After parting ways with Petty at the end of 2008, Labonte suffered through two thoroughly forgettable seasons, leaving many to wonder if time might have passed the 2000 Cup champion by. But joining JTG Daugherty Racing has left Labonte rejuvenated and refreshed, even after 500 laps at Bristol.

And Daugherty can see the renewed confidence in his driver's eyes.

"He did a super job," Daugherty said. "We're tickled with a top-15 finish and we'll take it and move on."