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The Callahan Report: Bobby Labonte's bold call results in victory, possible championship

8 October 2000

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Bobby Labonte
CONCORD, NC: Bobby Labonte proved he is more than just a great race driver Sunday. He proved he knows how manage and implement a racing strategy.

Labonte took control of his own destiny on the final pit stop of the UAW GM Quality 500. Instead of talking things over with his crew chief, Jimmy Makar, Labonte put the word out to the team that he would need four tires to get to the front. The team did as they were told. In twenty-five laps, Labonte moved from eighth place to first. With one bold call, he won for the fourth time in 2000 and may have sealed his first NASCAR Winston Cup Championship.

"I kind of made that decision," Labonte explained after the race. "I said, 'We're going to take four tires and put one round in the track bar. Our choice was simple. We knew we needed four so that's what we took."

Jeremy Mayfield seemed to be the class of the field prior to the final caution flag, 25 laps from the finish. He was the leader when everyone made final pit stops. Mayfield and his team elected to replace only two tires so they could maintain track position. Labonte would later prove to Mayfield's team that the two-tire decision was a bad one. Six laps from the finish, Labonte blew past Mayfield for the lead.

"It was a last-minute decision," said Mayfield. "We felt like there were so many cars on the lead lap that a lot of guys were going to put on two. We felt like if you put on four and lost track position, you weren't going to win the race."

Ricky Rudd was running in second place before the final round of pit stops. Rudd was upset after the race. He didn't see a reason for the final caution period (debris on the track). Rudd, like Labonte, took on four tires during the final pit stop. Rudd's car lost something in the final round of racing. He finished in sixth place.

"That's a couple of weeks in a row we felt like we had the best car in the long run and we just didn't get a chance to end it in a long run," Rudd said. "We had a magical debris caution out there that bunched us back up and changed the outcome."

Labonte had to agree with Rudd.

"To be honest with you, I can't say that I saw anything," Labonte said. "There might have been some, there might not have been. We're just here to race."

Heading into the race Sunday, Labonte led the points race by 213 over seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt. Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett were not far behind in third and fourth place.

If Labonte continues to make calls like he did Sunday, the race is over. Time is running out for the competition. Even if Labonte makes mistakes in the final five races of the season...Burton, and Earnhardt will have to perform flawlessly if they plan on catching him.

Jarrett was all but eliminated from the championship chase when he crashed on the 159th lap. "I just got hit going into turn three," a dejected Jarrett said. "I was just making my normal line in and I guess somebody drove in a little bit further and caught me in the left rear."

Labonte simply has to finish ninth or better in each of the remaining races to win the championship. However, he is not planning on changing his approach in the final five races.

"We do everything we can in our power to run the best that we can every weekend," Labonte said. "We're not going to hit it every weekend, but on the days that we can, that's what got us here to this point. We can't change our thought process now."

Tires not a problem:

News leading up to the UAW-GM Quality 500 was that there would be a tire shortage. The shortage scare came about when the racing tires to be supplied for the race failed internal quality standards at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. In the end, Goodyear supplied nine sets of tires, normal for a five hundred mile race, to each team prior to the start.

Most Competitive Race of Season:

There were 46 lead changes among 13 drivers in the UAW GM Quality 500. Bobby Labonte led the first lap and the last lap. Ricky Rudd led 98 laps, the most of any driver.

Points Race:

With five races to go in the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season, Bobby Labonte has the biggest lead he has seen all year. He leads by 253 points over Jeff Burton who finished sixth Sunday. Dale Earnhardt fell to third place in the season point standings when he finished in 11th place in the UAW GM Quality 500. Earnhardt is 258 points behind Labonte.

Champions caught up in crashes:

Dale Jarrett was tapped by Wallace on lap 159 of the UAW GM Quality 500 Sunday. He finished in 40th but more importantly, fell to 388 points behind series point leader Bobby Labonte. Jeff Gordon went out of the race in the same wreck. He tried to avoid the melee but hit the spinning Jarrett. Gordon finished in 39th position.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.