|SOURCE: Chris Graythen, Getty Images|
The finish was Labonte’s first in the series since June 23, 2013, when his #47 Kingsford Toyota lost the engine on the opening lap of the Toyota / Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway, 73 races ago. Sunday’s finish occurred in Labonte’s 724th series start. He now stands tied for 11th in the all-time LASTCAR Cup Series rankings, tied with Mike Skinner and J.J. Yeley.
Labonte, the 2000 series champion and a 21-time race winner, currently drives a limited schedule in Frankie Stoddard and Archie St. Hilaire’s #32 Ford. He will run only the season’s four restrictor-plate races, taking over duties for his older brother and two-time champion Terry Labonte, who retired following the Talladega race last fall. Last year, Labonte finished 15th in the Daytona 500 driving a second car for HScott Motorsports, then timed in 4th for the July race driving for Joe Falk before a mid-race crash left him 26th.
At SpeedWeeks in February, Labonte’s #32 was one of several cars destroyed in a controversial wreck during qualifying, the damage sustained after rear-ending Clint Bowyer’s Toyota forcing the team to a backup. Despite this, Labonte came home 24th in the Daytona 500 with the car intact, then returned to finish 27th at Talladega. With the #32 shared this season by drivers Mike Bliss, Richmond last-placer Joey Gase, Travis Kvapil, and most recently Boris Said last week at Sonoma, Labonte returned from a weekend at the Goodwood Festival of Speed for another Cup race. Labonte’s 24th in the Daytona 500 remained Go FAS Racing’s best finish of 2015.
Labonte ran 40th-fastest in the opening practice session and improved to 36th in Happy Hour, but when qualifying was cancelled by rain, the field was set by the first session’s speeds, leaving him 38th. The two drivers who missed the race were Michael McDowell, who was 15th in Happy Hour but ended up with his first DNQ since Talladega, and Ryan Blaney, 4th at Talladega, but left with the Wood Brothers’ first DNQ since the team scaled back to a partial schedule in 2009.
Starting 43rd on Sunday’s rain-delayed race was Brendan Gaughan, who by virtue of Premium Motorsports’ full-season schedule was able to make his first Cup start since Pocono last month. Gaughan’s white Vydox Plus Chevrolet held the spot during the first two laps before trouble broke out off Turn 3. David Gilliland, who last week finished 43rd at Sonoma, was racing Clint Bowyer for 5th when the two cars made contact off Turn 4, sending Gilliland into a spin. Eight other cars lost control trying to avoid Gilliland’s #38, and Labonte found himself right in the middle of the mess. When timing and scoring reset following the wreck, Labonte was credited with the 43rd spot with the damaged cars of Gilliland, Jeb Burton, Joey Logano, and Danica Patrick rounding out the Bottom Five. Of this group, only Labonte failed to return to the track, though NBC did not officially list him as “OUT” until Lap 98.
The rest of the Bottom Five wasn’t set until Lap 154 as the other drivers involved in the Lap 3 wreck returned to the track. Jeb Burton, 42nd upon Labonte’s retirement, brought is #26 Maxim Toyota back on track on Lap 39 and ultimately came home 36th. Gilliand, 42nd after Burton’s return, followed on Lap 58, spun on Lap 60 for a cut right-rear tire, then rejoined the field on Lap 71 to salvage a 40th-place run in the #38 Florida Lottery Ford. Michael Annett’s camouflaged #46 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet completed a few more laps than Gilliland after the Lap 3 crash and also returned on Lap 58, eventually making it to 37th at the checkered flag.
On Lap 86, Carl Edwards, who had already spun his #19 Subway Toyota off Turn 4, lost control again after contact from Kyle Larson’s #42 Coca-Cola Chevrolet in Turn 2. As Edwards slid up the track, he was rear-ended hard by the #33 Shore Lodge Chevrolet of Talladega last-placer Brian Scott, lifting the rear of Edwards’ car from the track. Both Edwards and Scott retired after the crash and dropped into the Bottom Five. Jeb Burton passed the pair on Lap 124, Annett did the same on Lap 136, and Gilliland followed on Lap 150 to drop Edwards and Scott to 41st and 42nd, respectively. Annett held 39th until Lap 154 when he passed Larson, who was also involved in a second accident that ended his night on Lap 106, and eventual 38th-place finisher Martin Truex, Jr.
The finish of Sunday’s race was marred by a terrifying crash in the tri-oval that tore apart Austin Dillon’s #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet and injured three fans in the grandstands. The ensuing accident damaged nearly every car from 4th on back, but did not prevent a number of surprising finishes. Trevor Bayne scored his second top-ten finish in the last three races by coming home 9th in his #6 AdvoCare Ford. Landon Cassill, 43rd at Daytona in February, ran in the Top 10 all night and came home 13th, one spot shy of his career-best Daytona finish of 12th in the 2014 Daytona 500. And after starting last, Brendan Gaughan ran as high as 14th in the final stages before equaling his season-best 28th at Atlanta. In his other seven Cup starts in 2015, Gaughan had finished no better than 34th.
*This is Labonte’s third last-place finish in a Cup Series race at Daytona. The first came on July 3, 1993, when his #22 Maxwell House Ford was involved in a five-car pileup that stopped him 21 laps into the Pepsi 400. It was Labonte’s first-ever last-place finish in Cup in his 17th career start and occurred during his rookie season driving for owner Bill Davis. The other finish came in the 2005 Daytona 500 on February 20 of that year when his #18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet lost the engine after 14 laps.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #32 in a Cup race at Daytona since July 5, 2003 when Ricky Craven’s Tide Pontiac was involved in a seven-car crash that ended his race after 79 laps. No other cautions fell in the final 81 laps and then-rookie Greg Biffle went on to score his first Cup victory on fuel mileage.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #32-Bobby Labonte / 2 laps / crash
42) #33-Brian Scott / 85 laps / crash
41) #19-Carl Edwards / 85 laps / crash
40) #38-David Gilliland / 96 laps / running
39) #42-Kyle Larson / 103 laps / crash
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Landon Cassill (3)
2nd) Alex Bowman (2)
3rd) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Sam Hornish, Jr., Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, J.J. Yeley (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports (3)
2nd) Go FAS Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (2)
3rd) BK Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Ford (6)
3rd) Toyota (2)