Bobby Labonte Races For Win In Daytona 500
DAYTONA BEACH, February 21, 2011: 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte raced for the win down to the wire in the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway and took fourth-place with his No. 47 Kroger/USO Toyota after leading once for two laps in the season-opener.
Rookie Trevor Bayne was the victor with a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish thanks in part to a push from Labonte through Turn 4. Labonte was tucked in behind Bayne in second place racing for the win when all of the sudden Carl Edwards and David Gilliland came into the mix to finish second and third respectively.
“I hooked up with the 21 (Trevor Bayne) right here before we ever got to the start-finish line and pushed passed the white flag, and the guys back in the back were jockeying around,” Labonte said. “Obviously, I saw them coming and I went into Turn 3 and I was just probably a quarter of a car length up too high, but I think of the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) and he might have went to the outside of us. Carl Edwards was going so fast and he had a run on us. “
The top-five finish was bittersweet for the 21-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner.
“It means a lot and people may criticize me for not laughing or smiling enough, but I am disappointed we didn’t win this Daytona 500,” Labonte said. “That’s going to bother me probably for a little bit. I’m proud of the team because they did a great job today. We battled back from a near spin over there and we got a top-five out of it. Today was such a wild day. It was just a little bit too wild at times so to survive here today, I think it was a big thing.”
“At the same time, it is a great start to the season and I would like to thank everyone at JTG Daugherty Racing for the opportunity,” Labonte continued. “Also, I’d like to give a big thanks to Scott Brand Tissue, Kroger, the USO and all of our sponsors. Today is definitely a solid start to the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.” When the 53rd annual event kicked off early in the afternoon, Labonte was in the 31st starting position. The team wasted no time servicing the No. 47 Kroger Toyota Camry when the first caution of the race happened on Lap 4 when the No. 18 machine of Kyle Busch broke loose and collected others.
Labonte was on pit road at lap 6 for four tires, a round of wedge out and fuel. After restarting 39th, another caution occurred when the No. 46 (J J Yeley) machine's engine expired. Several cars ahead of Labonte headed to pit road as crew chief Frank Kerr told his driver to stay out. The call positioned Labonte in second place alongside the No. 2 car of Brad Keselowski.
At lap 15, Labonte led his first lap of the season by taking the lead from Keselowski. On lap 18, Paul Menard and Tony Stewart snuck by Labonte for the top two spots. The 21-time winner held onto a top-five position until the next caution at lap 22 when he came in for fuel and a half-round of wedge out, but no tires. Labonte went back to work at lap 26 while scored in 12th.
Three laps later, two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip was pushing his driver David Reutimann when all of the sudden the No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota snapped loose. The incident collected both of them as well as Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Brian Vickers and others.
After safety workers cleared the 2.5-mile superspeedway, Labonte was sixth when the green flag waved at lap 35. He was fifth the next time by and then got shuffled to 13th as Paul Menard led the field to the start-finish line.
Labonte had help from Joey Logano as they hung around the top-15.
"We're catching them up ahead," Kerr told Labonte.
Then his teammate Martin Truex Jr. gave him a push as the yellow flag waved for Robert Richardson Jr.'s spin at lap 46. Labonte was 19th as his pit crew performed a routine pit stop for four tires and fuel.
"It felt like the tires were vibrating," Labonte said. "It's a game of survival out here."
10 laps later the sixth caution of the race happened and Kerr called Labonte to pit road.
"Come on in because we are going to top off," said Kerr, who called for right-side tires and fuel only on the yellow stop at lap 77.
At halfway, Labonte was 13th as his teammate Martin Truex Jr. went to the point. Next stop under caution at lap 108, Kerr had the team to change four tires and add fuel. With debris on the track at lap 123 it allowed for a half-can of fuel to be added and a half-round of wedge adjustment on the No. 47 Kroger/USO Toyota.
"It was a little tight up off the corner," Labonte said.
When the green flag waved, Labonte charged through the field to fifth place. On lap 30, his machine snapped out from underneath him and Labonte saved it without hitting anything. He immediately came over the radio to Kerr.
“I just need tires, everything is cool,” Labonte said.
“Great job saving it,” Kerr added.
Fortunately, the yellow came out for an incident involving Matt Kenseth and Labonte was quickly on pit road. The team discovered that the right rear fender braces were broken. The JTG Daugherty Racing pit crew changed all four tires and worked on the braces during two back-to-back stops.
The No. 47 Kroger/USO Toyota Camry was shown in 27th place once the stops were completed and back to green flag racing. Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya had problems bringing out another caution. Kerr made the call for right side tires, fuel and more work underneath the right rear fender on lap 144. Then it was fuel only and a half-round wedge back in on Labonte’s car at lap 158 under yellow.
Approaching lap 175, Labonte found his teammate Martin Truex Jr. running 15th. Labonte hooked up to the bumper of Truex and was pushing him. All the sudden Truex Jr. snapped around similar to what happened to other two-car hookups throughout Speedweeks. Truex Jr. recovered from the incident.
As the laps began to tick away, Kerr and spotter David Green talked strategy.
“Frank, can you count the laps down for us starting with 20 laps to go,” Green said.
With 10 laps to go, Labonte planted himself inside the top 10.
At lap 196, a big wreck took out leader Regan Smith, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer. On the first attempt at the green-white-checkered flag finish on lap 202, Labonte restarted sixth. An accident triggered by Robby Gordon collected Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman. It brought out the 16th caution of the race and the second attempt at a finish.
Labonte was seated fourth by lap 206 and quickly moved to second to give winner Trevor Bayne a big push. Coming to the line it was every man for himself. Carl Edwards made a swift move to get by Labonte and David Gilliland was in tow coming to the stripe. Once it was said and done, Bayne was victorious. Carl Edwards was second. Gilliland, Labonte and Kurt Busch rounded out the top- five.
“Congratulations to Trevor (Bayne) and the Wood Brothers -- that's awesome for those guys,” Labonte said. “We came home with a top-four with our Kroger/USO Toyota Camry so that was good. It was a little wild out there today.” Co-owner Tad Geschickter had the last word with Labonte.
“We just almost won the Daytona 500,” Geschickter said. “I think that says it all.