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The Callahan Report: Bobby Labonte takes both Pocono races in '99

25 July 1999

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
Bobby Labonte
LONG POND, PA: As the end of the Pennsylvania 500 drew near, it looked as if the race was shaping up to be a typical exciting NASCAR finish. Most teams had cut it close on fuel. The big questions were "who will stop, and who will stretch it?". Two late race cautions, combined with Bobby Labonte's light touch on the accelerator, ended the drama. After saving plenty of fuel prior to the late caution periods, Labonte was able to drive the final twenty-eight laps of the race at full song. He won by nearly nine seconds.

All the leaders were able to make it to the end of the race without stopping for additional fuel. The problem was that most teams haven't been able to figure out the fuel mileage situation as well as the Labonte team. Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, and Jeff Burton all had to wait a little longer to 'turn up the wick'. By the time they got into the throttle, Labonte was barely visible on the horizon.

"I ran as hard as I could," said Labonte. "We didn't have the fastest race car all day, but we had the fastest one at the end."

Labonte, who visited victory lane at Pocono last month, was never a threat until late in the race. The car Labonte used for his first Pocono win was trashed two weeks ago in New Hampshire. Sunday's victory came in a car that was designed for high banked tracks like Darlington and Rockingham. Pocono is the flattest of all NASCAR Winston Cup tracks. The winning result came as a surprise to crew chief Makar.

"I don't know what that thing (the car) was doing here," Makar said simply

"We went from the pits to the penthouse. You can't get those lost points back, but it's been a great season," said Labonte about the turn-around from New Hampshire to Pocono.

Jeff Burton ended up not being a factor at the end. A transmission failure sent him straight to the garage area. Burton failed to finish at Pocono for the second time this season. He crashed early in the race here last month.

"Part of the shaft broke off the transmission," Burton said after emerging from the garage area. "It's a real shame because we had a fast race car. We've spent a lot of effort and time on our transmission and rear-end program and we know it's a lot better than it was. We'll have to get this home and see why it happened."

Dale Jarrett
Mark Martin, still requiring assistance to get in-and-out of his car after a crash earlier in the month, was running a strong second place before Labonte got the word to go racing. Martin held his position for a while but had to give in to a hard charging Dale Jarrett. Martin finished in third place behind Labonte and Jarrett.

"The thing that bothered me the most today was my butt. I thought it was gonna catch on fire," said an exhausted Martin. "I don't know why the bottom of the seat was so hot, but that was the worst thing. Then, we did so much warming up of the tires, weaving back and forth, I aggravated my ACL injury ligament. It's hurting real bad."

"We had an awful fast car. Bobby Labonte, they have a total package and that's hard to beat," said Jarrett. "They get good fuel mileage, their cars handle well, the Pontiac has a really good aero package that not only gives them good downforce, but not a lot of drag on the straightaway. That's a hard combination to beat."

Tony Stewart, the rookie teammate to Labonte, was a victim of fuel mileage problems two weeks ago at New Hampshire. Stewart had dominated that race only to run out of fuel with two laps remaining. He and his crew would not let that type of thing happen at Pocono. Stewart made a splash-and-go stop for fuel during one of the caution periods. He made the stop with Dale Earnhardt. The two drivers began making their way through the field. Stewart progressed all the way to fourth place at the finish. Earnhardt finished in ninth place.

Wally Dallenbach, who was informed he needs to start working on his resume last week, made an excellent showing at Pocono. He finished fifth in the Hendrick Motorsports Budweiser Monte Carlo.

The driver assigned to replace Dallenbach at Hendrick Motorsports next season, Jerry Nadeau, was a part of both of the late caution periods. Nadeau tapped Bill Elliott, sending the popular driver from Georgia into the wall. Later, Nadeau hit the wall hard in turn one himself.

Bobby Labonte is in third place in the Winston Cup point standings. He is 282 points behind the leader, Dale Jarrett. Mark Martin is in second place, 29 points ahead of Labonte. The winner's share of the $2.2 million purse was $139,385.

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