Labonte Earns Third at Infineon Raceway
- Jun 24, 2002
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (June 24, 2002)—Terry Labonte earned his best result in the last 73 NASCAR Winston Cup Series races, finishing third at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., after a fuel gamble paid dividends for the Kellogg’s Racing Team.
Jim Long, crew chief of the No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet, made a gutsy call as most of the leaders took yellow-flag pit stops on lap 85, deciding to keep Labonte’s Monte Carlo on the track, gambling that a stop just 16 laps earlier would provide the team with enough fuel to finish the race.
“Jim made a good call, stayed out there on old tires there, we were able to hold on and get a good finish,” said Labonte. “Our second half of the year is gong to be a lot better; hopefully this will be the start of it.”
The finish was the Labonte’s best since a second-place run at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on May 6, 2000, where he moved from a starting position of 30th for his top finish of the season.
The two-time Winston Cup Series champion jumped two positions in the overall driver standings to 17th, one spot behind Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Driving the No. 25 UAW-Delphi Monte Carlo, Joe Nemechek earned his best result since joining Hendrick Motorsports in May, finishing 18th on the two-mile California road course.
After starting just 13 events in 2002, Nemechek remains 38th in Winston Cup points, 81 behind 37th-place Stacy Compton, who has run 15 races this season.
Jimmie Johnson participated in his first career event at Infineon Raceway on Sunday, finishing a disappointing 35th after running in the top 20 throughout the afternoon. The rear-end gear of the rookie’s No. 48 Chevrolet failed in the final stages of the race, putting Team Lowe’s Racing near the back of the field.
Johnson’s finish dropped him from second to fourth in the Winston Cup driver standings, a mere four points behind teammate Jeff Gordon for third and just 86 shy of leader Sterling Marlin.
Gordon, the defending Winston Cup champion, endured another frustrating afternoon, finishing 37th after leading 30 laps—the most of any driver—before the No. 24 DuPont Chevy went to the garage with rear-end trouble, similar to Johnson’s Monte Carlo.
The four-time champion finished the race seven laps off the pace in 37th after starting fourth. Now third in the driver standings, Gordon is only 82 points behind Marlin and just 20 back of second-place Mark Martin.
The NASCAR Winston Cup Series will take its last break of the 2002 season this weekend, returning Saturday, July 6 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for the Pepsi 400.