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Labonte Finishes Third at Sonoma

 

  • Jun 24, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (June 24, 2002)—The Kellogg`s Racing Team made a gutsy call late in Sunday`s Dodge/Save Mart 350, keeping Terry Labonte on the racetrack when the majority of the leaders were pitting for fuel and tires for the stretch run.

The two-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion made the most of the opportunity, driving a smooth, steady race over the final 23 laps to finish third on the Infineon Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif.

It was Labonte’s best finish in 73 events, since a second-place run at Richmond, Va., in the spring of 2000. It was his third top-10 finish of the season, matching his total for the entire 36-race schedule in 2001. The performance lifted Labonte into 17th place in the series standings heading into the final off-weekend of the season.

Labonte started 39th and rallied as high as 27th place in the first quarter of the race before a cut right-rear tire sent the Kellogg’s Chevrolet to pit road for fresh rubber.

After falling one lap down, the veteran quickly regained his rhythm and began a methodical advance through the field, and was running 20th when the final caution flag of the race came out on lap 85 when the majority of the lead cars pitted for fuel and tires. But Labonte had been on pit road for service at lap 69 and crew chief Jim Long determined that there was plenty of fuel for Labonte to finish the race, so he stayed on the track and was running fourth on the restart.

Labonte eventually overtook Jeff Green for third place and when leader Bill Elliott ran off the course, he was second to leader Jerry Nadeau. But with hard-charging Tony Stewart and Ricky Rudd rapidly closing in, Labonte slipped to fourth place on worn tires.

When Nadeau’s Pontiac lost its rear-end gear two laps from the finish, Rudd assumed the lead and held on for his 23rd career victory. Stewart finished second, with Labonte third.

Labonte is 17th in the Winston Cup standings with 1,682 points—104 behind 15th-place Ryan Newman and 290 behind Bill Elliott in 10th. Sunday’s effort also lifted him past the $28 million mark in career winnings and he remains seventh on NASCAR’s all-time list.

Next weekend is the final off-weekend of the year for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. When action resumes July 6 in Daytona Beach, Fla., it will be the first of 20 straight weekends of competition to close the 2002 campaign.

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