Monday, June 24, 2013

CUP: Bobby Labonte’s Bad Luck Continues During Chaotic Sonoma Start

SOURCE: Brock Beard
Bobby Labonte picked up the 13th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway when his #47 Kingsford Toyota fell out with engine problems on the opening lap of the 110-lap race.

The finish was Labonte’s second finish of 2013 and his second in a row, following his 43rd-place run with Phoenix Racing last week at Michigan.  Labonte becomes the first Cup driver to finish last for two different teams in the same season since last year, when Reed Sorenson finished last in Turn One Racing’s #74 at Martinsville, then four times in the #91 for Humphrey-Smith Motorsports.

Just like Michigan, Labonte qualified 20th, this time at an average speed of 93.668 mph.

On a cloudy race day, a steady rain fell over the track near the end of pre-race ceremonies just moments after my “25 Years of NASCAR In Sonoma” video was shown.  Despite the weather, the command was given and the field began to roll.  Back in the pack, David Reutimann stopped his car on pit road, triggering a bizarre incident between two of the race’s four first-time Cup starters: Alex Kennedy and Paulie Harraka.  While Kennedy slowed to a stop behind Reutimann, Harraka, more than two carlengths behind him at the time, did not, and rammed the back of the #19.  Both rookies pitted for repairs to their cars.
Alex Kennedy's Cup debut
SOURCE: Brock Beard

It was an unfortunate incident for two underdog teams.  Kennedy was set to give Humphrey-Smith Motorsports its first full-race run of 2013 in the #19 MediaMasters Toyota.  The car carried Kennedy’s name over the driver’s door with Jason Leffler’s “LefTURN” logo over the right.  Harraka’s #52 HASA Pool Products Ford was fielded by Bob Keselowski, aided by Go Green Racing, and was brought to the track using haulers and equipment from Phil Parsons Racing.  With Parsons’ driver Michael McDowell indisposed with running the Nationwide race at Road America the day before, Harraka was given the opportunity to make his series debut.

Joining Kennedy and Harraka in the pits were Bobby Labonte and Jacques Villeneueve, the latter behind the wheel of the #51 Phoenix Racing entry Labonte drove at Michigan.  Villeneuve was on jackstands after the first pace lap, the crew checking over a troublesome transmission, reports indicating he only had two functioning gears.  Labonte pulled behind the wall with an apparent radiator problem that then led to the replacement of his oil cooler.  As the pace laps continued through the rain, Labonte and Villeneuve eventually joined Kennedy and Harraka back on track.

Labonte was nearly a full lap behind the leaders when the green flag flew.  As he crested the hill between Turns 2 and 3, the engine suddenly let go, and he pulled down to the entrance of The Carousel, the old sweeping left-hander of Sonoma’s 2.52-mile course NASCAR ran from 1989 through 1997.  Labonte’s car was out of harm’s way, so the race remained under green.  A wrecker eventually picked up Labonte’s smoking car, and his hauler left the track before the race’s halfway point.

An eventful day for Paulie Harraka
SOURCE: Brock Beard
During those opening laps, Harraka’s #52 limped around the back of the pack, smoking heavily from its damaged right-front fender.  Entering Turn 1, the right-front tire suddenly cut down, sending him spinning to a stop in the infield grass.  Harraka sustained further damage to his right-front, possibly from contacting a tire barrier, and brought out the first caution of the day.  Extensive repairs which removed much of his sheet metal allowed him to finish the race 21 laps down in 39th.

Kennedy finished 40th, his car involved in a three-car accident on Lap 33 triggered in The Esses when Joey Logano dumped Reutimann’s #83.  The resulting wreck shoved-in the nose of Kennedy’s #19, which stalled and was eventually towed behind the wall.

Villeneuve ended up 41st, his transmission problem worsening into a sudden engine failure that took him out of the race after just 19 laps.

Finishing 42nd was J.J. Yeley, who was slated to give owner Larry Gunselman his first Cup start since Homestead last November.  In reality, Yeley’s #37 car was a third Tommy Baldwin-prepared Chevrolet.  The car had some slight cosmetic damage to the right-rear prior to the race.  Yeley pulled his car behind the wall after seven laps while rookie teammates Justin Marks and Victor Gonzalez, Jr. - the latter in a backup car after a qualifying wreck - finished 30th and 37th, respectively.

Sunday’s race was won by Martin Truex, Jr., his first victory for Michael Waltrip Racing and his first in the Cup Series since Dover on June 4, 2007.  All three of Truex’s last-place finishes have taken place in that 218-race span.  The third came at Phoenix last fall.

Reports now indicate that A.J. Allmendinger will again drive in Bobby Labonte’s #47 next Saturday in Kentucky.  A ride for Labonte has yet to be announced, potentially jeopardizing his streak of 704 consecutive Cup Series starts.

J.J. Yeley's Tommy Baldwin Racing #37
SOURCE: Brock Beard
*Labonte is the first Cup Series driver to finish last in a Cup Series race at Sonoma without completing the opening lap since 2006, when Tom Hubert and his #27 Interush Ford was involved in a grinding three-car wreck in the Dodge / Save Mart 350.  He is also the second-consecutive driver to finish last without completing a lap of a Cup road race: last August at Watkins Glen, Brian Vickers’ opening-lap engine failure on his #55 Toyota gave the same result.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #47 in a Cup Series race since 1998, when the engine let go on Billy Standridge’s #47 Ford after 19 laps of the Pepsi 400 at Daytona.  This was the same race that was delayed from July to October because of wildfires near the track.  It was Standridge’s 23rd and final Cup Series start in a season where he made all four restrictor-plate races in 1998 while driving a year-old Ford Thunderbird.
*Neither Labonte nor the #47 had ever before finished last in a Cup race at Sonoma.

43) #47-Bobby Labonte / 0 laps / engine
42) #37-J.J. Yeley / 7 laps / transmission
41) #51-Jacques Villeneuve / 19 laps / engine
40) #19-Alex Kennedy / 30 laps / crash
39) #52-Paulie Harraka / 89 laps / running

1st) Mike Bliss (4)
2nd) Michael McDowell (3)
3rd) Bobby Labonte, Scott Riggs (2)
4th) Trevor Bayne, Dave Blaney, Jason Leffler, Joe Nemechek, Scott Speed (1)

1st) #19-Humphrey-Smith Motorsports (5)
2nd) #98-Phil Parsons Racing (3)
3rd) #44-Xxxtreme Motorsports (2)
4th) #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #21-Wood Brothers Racing, #47-JTG Daugherty Racing, #51-Phoenix Racing, #87-NEMCO Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Ford, Toyota (7)
2nd) Chevrolet (2)

1 comment:

Lou said...

Mr. Beard,

As always I enjoy reading your posts. I like the facts that you present on the other end of the field. Just sad and feel bad for Bobby Labonte a nascar cup champion.

I hope the streak ends this weekend. It is kind of like the weak link in a chain, just to continue it.

Thank you for providing week to week.