LABONTE BRINGS HOME HIS NO. 47 KROGER TOYOTA 14TH IN RAIN-DELAYED FIERY DAYTONA 500
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 28, 2012) - 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte raced his No. 47 Kroger/USO Toyota Camry across the finish line in 14th-place during the Daytona 500 that was rescheduled Monday due to persistent precipitation at Daytona International Speedway.
The action-packed race ended with a green-white-checkered finish after it was red-flagged for slightly over two hours. With 40 laps remaining, NASCAR brought the race to a screeching halt due to Juan Pablo Montoya colliding with a jet dryer in Turn 3, which immediately was engulfed into flames.
"We're grateful no one was seriously injured," Labonte said. "NASCAR did a great job with all the cards they were dealt this weekend. They did everything in their power to get this race in for the fans. Thanks to the fans for tuning in Monday night. Also, thanks to everyone that came back out to Daytona International Speedway to watch us race."
After a rain-soaked Sunday and precipitation most of the day Monday, NASCAR made the call to start the race at 7:13 p.m. ET. The skies finally opened up and jet dryers were able to set the stage for primetime on FOX.
As the 43-car field made its way around the 2.5-mile tri-oval coming to the green, Labonte was in the 32nd starting position with great anticipation to surge to the front of the field. Before an estimated crowd of 140,000, Carl Edwards started on the pole with his teammate Greg Biffle on the outside pole. Tony Stewart occupied the third starting position while Matt Kenseth was in fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fifth as the scheduled 200-lap race was underway.
Right off the bat, the first caution happened on lap 1 on the frontstretch involving the No. 10, 21, 33, 34, 48 and 51.
"What happened," Labonte said.
"Looks like someone got into the back of Jimmie (Johnson)," spotter David Green told Labonte.
"How's the weather look?" Labonte asked.
"It's okay right now, but it looks like more is on its way," Green said.
As Labonte charged into the top 15, the yellow flag waved at lap 12 when Ryan Newman's tire gave out. Crew chief Todd Berrier made the call for fuel only on the first stop of the evening.
Back to work in the top 20, Labonte settled in for a long night. His next stop was at lap 55 under green for four tires and fuel. Right away, Labonte communicated to Berrier that he had a vibration. When a debris caution happened at lap 63, Berrier called Labonte into the pits to be on the safe side.
"Come in for four tires, one round and a tear off," Berrier told Labonte.
"Can someone update me on the weather situation," Labonte said.
"Looks better," Green said.
With inclement weather lurking, Labonte restarted 25th on lap 67 with Greg Biffle shown as the leader."We may have too much rebound in the front," Labonte said.
When Jeff Gordon's engine expired at lap 80, it gave Labonte an opportunity to come to pit road for fuel under yellow. Starting in 18th back to green flag racing, Labonte catapulted his No. 47 Kroger Toyota into the top 10 at lap 86.
On the next lap, Green told Labonte to stay high as Terry Labonte was turned around while running third. Labonte was 15th at lap 91 back to green flag racing. He was eighth at lap 99. At lap 102, Labonte broke into the top five and was fourth before getting shuffled out with no help. Running in and around the top 15, Labonte was biding his time waiting for his turn to pit under green.
All of the sudden, Labonte keyed up his microphone.
"I think I'm out of fuel," Labonte said.
After pitting under green for four tires and fuel at lap 125, Labonte was pinned one lap down.
Then the No. 15 Toyota of Clint Bowyer ran out of fuel and was slow on the apron bringing out the yellow at lap 128.
"Are we the Lucky Dog," Labonte said.
"The 39 (Ryan Newman) is the Lucky Dog," Green said.
"We cannot do the wave around because there's a lug off the left front," Berrier said. "Bring it in and we will change four tires."
"We've got a few new guys on our team and we had a lug nut fall off the left front," pit coach Gary Smith said. "Overall it was not a bad night and fortunately we were able to get our lap back and leave with a top 15 finish."
The JTG Daugherty Racing team knew Labonte had a solid shot at getting his lap back and at lap 156, he did just that when David Stremme had problems and brought out the caution.
"We are the Lucky Dog here," Berrier said. "Bring it in for four tires and we are going to pack it full of fuel. However, we are going to be a few laps short. Since we are the Lucky Dog, we cannot top off the fuel. We need another caution to be alright."
As everyone was riding around under yellow on lap 160, the incident with Montoya and the jet dryer occurred. It appeared as though something broke in Montoya's car shooting it up the track off the apron into the side of the jet dryer.
When the race was resumed, Labonte rolled off 23rd at lap 166 at approximately 12:10 a.m. ET.
Labonte dodged wrecks at lap 177, 187 and 196 to advance his position.
With a green-white-checker scenario, he restarted 14th at lap 199.
"You are in the middle and they are three wide behind you," Green said. "Let's bring this thing home."
Labonte held his position to finish 14th in The Great American Race that was won by Matt Kenseth.
"It was a long night, but to be able to finish 14th is a good night for us," Labonte said. "We have came a long way in a very short amount of time. We look forward to heading to Phoenix this week."
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series head to Avondale, Arizona on Thursday. Live coverage of the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX. MRN Radio, and SIRIUS/XM NASCAR Radio will also broadcast nationally.