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Labonte salvages his 600

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          NASCAR NEWS - Thursday, June 5, 2008

Labonte salvages his 600 after flirting with disaster
Almost two laps down, aggressive pitting saves night
By Joe Menzer, NASCAR.COM

CONCORD, N.C. - Bobby Labonte came back from the brink of 
the racing abyss to match his best finish of the season in 
Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. 

In the end, the driver of the famed No. 43 Dodge for Petty 
Enterprises was pleased with his 11th-place finish but 
frustrated nonetheless that it didn't end up being even 

"Early on we were a lap down on Lap 62. We were at the tail 
end being a lap down, almost two laps down, and we got a 
lucky break with the caution coming out. That kept us only 
one lap down," Labonte said. 

That caution came out when Robby Gordon's engine blew 
ending Gordon's night but helped give new life to Labonte 
when he was on the verge of going those two laps down to 
the leaders. He credited crew chief Jeff Meendering for 
making the right calls in the pits to then help him get 
into position to get the free pass for being the first 
car not on the lead lap. 

When that caution came out on Lap 193, Labonte found him-
self back on the lead lap. Meendering then made some 
additional aggressive calls in the pits, taking on two 
tires and fuel when most others on the lead lap took 
fuel and four tires. That strategy allowed Labonte to 
jump into the top 10. 

From there, he took advantage -- driving the car to as 
high as third place on Lap 300 before eventually falling 

"We stayed OK after that, but track position meant so 
much all night," Labonte said. 

Robbie Loomis, general manager for Petty Enterprises, 
said he was pleased with the way his driver and crew 
chief worked together to relentlessly fight back after 
a tough start. 

"Bobby and Jeff did a good job. We battled back. We got 
[almost] two laps down at one point and we came back 
from that," Loomis said. "We've just got to get to the 
point where we start these races better. But I like the 
way Bobby and Jeff are communicating, and it paid off 
there at the end." 

The 11th-place finish matched Labonte's best finish of 
2008 in the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February. 
Labonte lost his shot at a top-10 finish when he and 
Meendering figured they had to make a late stop for gas 
and four fresh tires. 

"We had to put tires on at some point in time and that 
cost us some spots and dropped us to 11th," Labonte 
said. "It was tough because we wanted to stay out [on 
the same tires] and keep our track position, but they 
give you a false sense of hope. You're never really 
sure about the tires in a situation like that. We decided 
to pit and put new tires on and try to get us a top-10 
finish that way." 

It didn't quite work out as well as they had hoped, but 
Loomis said the entire No. 43 team has reasons to be 
encouraged moving forward. 

"I think they learned some stuff over here at the [recent 
Lowe's Motor Speedway] test that helped us to get that 
thing right," Loomis said. "Track position is just so 
important. So you have one car when you have a clean 
track, and you have a different car when you don't have 
it. You've just got to balance whether you're in clean 
air or not, but I think this is definitely something we 
can build on." 

Loomis insisted that he has seen the No. 43 team coming 
on stronger in recent weeks, even when its finishes 
perhaps haven't reflected that. 

"The Richmond race comes to mind, but each race we think 
we're taking away something that can help us," Loomis 
said. "There have been a couple races where we've run lap 
times that were in the top five. But the majority of the 
race we're a 12th- through 18th-place car. We've just got 
to get on the front side of it; right now we're on the 
backside of those top 10 guys." 

Overall, Sunday's eventual 11th-place finish was pretty 
satisfying for all involved. 

"We'll take it," said Labonte, who moved up one spot to 
18th in the points standings. 

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Nos. 66, 70 handed stiff penalties for infractions
By Official Release

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - NASCAR on Wednesday issued penalties,
fines and suspensions to the No. 66 and No. 70 teams in
the Sprint Cup Series.

The No. 66 car, driven by Scott Riggs, and the No. 70 car,
driven by Johnny Sauter, were found to be in violation of
Sections 12-4-A (actions detrimental to stock car racing)
and 20-3.1.3A (wing mounting locations were not as
specified by the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rule Book).

The infractions were discovered May 24 at Lowe's Motor

As a result:

- Riggs has been penalized 150 driver points;

- No. 66 car owner Joe Custer has been penalized 150 owner

- Sauter has been penalized 150 driver points;

- No. 70 car owner Margaret Haas has been penalized 150
  owner points;

- Both the crew chiefs and the car chiefs for the two cars
  -- Bootie Barker and Derick Jennings for the No. 66 and
  Dave Skog and Thomas Harris for the No. 70 -- have been
  suspended from the next six Sprint Cup Series events,
  suspended from NASCAR until July 9 and placed on NASCAR
  probation until Dec. 31;

• Additionally, Barker and Skog each have been fined

The penalty also includes NASCAR's confiscation of team 66
Serial Number HMS 12 06 415 race car and team 70 Serial
Number HMS 04 08 507 race car.

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Mayfield to drive No. 40 for injured Franchitti at Dover

Dario Franchitti's injured ankle is apparently no match
for the Monster Mile. Jeremy Mayfield was named Wednesday
as a replacement for the Scotland native in the No. 40
Dodge for Sunday's Best Buy 400 at Dover International
Speedway, according to NASCAR's updated entry list.

Mayfield, a five-time winner on the Cup circuit, began the
season with Gene Haas' No. 70 Chevrolet, but was released
from driving duties after failing to post a finish of
better than 16th in seven starts.

Franchitti suffered a fracture of his left ankle after a
multi-car accident during a Nationwide Series race at
Talladega in April, and has not raced since.

David Stremme took over at Talladega and was running among
the leaders when he was caught up in a 10-car accident on
the last lap, which left him with a 28th-place finish.

Sterling Marlin filled in for Franchitti at the two most
recent races on the schedule. He finished 34th at
Darlington and 31st at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Franchitti had originally been scheduled to drive the Cup
race at Dover. He is still on the entry list for Saturday's
Nationwide Series race.

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Stillman named crew chief for DEI's No. 01 Chevrolet
By Team Release

MOORESVILLE, N.C. - Dale Earnhardt Inc. fans will see a
familiar face calling the shots for driver Regan Smith at

Dan Stillman, most recently car chief of the No. 55 Toyota
at Michael Waltrip Racing, will take the reins as crew
chief of the No. 01 Chevrolet this weekend at the Monster

Stillman previously was a shock and spring engineer at
DEI before becoming the crew chief for Paul Menard in the
Nationwide Series. He also worked at Kevin Harvick Inc.
as crew chief for that organization's Nationwide program.

"I'm really excited to have Dan join our team," Smith said.
"He's got a ton of experience and is a proven winner in
this sport. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do
as a team.

"I also have to thank Kevin [Buskirk] for helping us out
last week. He stepped in at the last moment and did a
great job as our crew chief at Charlotte. That just shows
you the type of talent we have working at DEI."

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