The 2000 NASCAR cup series champion Bobby Labonte came to Dillon speedway with only one thought on his mind and that was to put the Cook Out sponsored SMART tour modified into victory lane. He can now check that off his to do list.
With the air temperature hovering in the mid 90’s and track temperature at 115 degrees, Labonte topped off his qualifying run turning the 4/10 mile speedway with a quick 15.913 second lap. After the redraw Labonte drew the third starting spot with Chris Fettechiro of Penfield, N.Y. in his first start with the SMART tour drawing the pole. Fettechiro had to drop to the rear because of a rules infraction. That now moved the inside row up, putting Labonte on the pole.
Fan favorite, The Flying Floridian Jeremy Gerstner started on the outside pole. At the drop of the green Gerstner jetted away not wasting any time putting distance between himself and Labonte. By lap 7 Gerstner held a straightaway lead and by lap 20 he increased his lead to half of the track.
Behind him the racing was a little more intense with Labonte holding down the runner up spot until John Smith made an inside move on Labonte for second place. Two laps later Burt Myers, who started mid pack, used the same inside move and dropped Labonte back to fourth.
By lap 25 the top five were Gerstner, Smith, Burt Myers, Labonte followed by Chuck Hossfeld driving the PSR Products #17.
It only took 28 laps by the time Gerstner started lapping competitors. Two laps later the competition yellow came out giving drivers a chance to pit for adjustments and tire swaps.
The restart was no different for Gerstner, this time using the inside lane to rocket away with Smith, Burt Myers, Labonte and Dennis Holdren in tow. Labonte’s restart was perfect as he passed both Burt Myers and Smith to regain second place. Three laps later Myers and Smith overpowered Labonte, again dropping the Cook Out ride back to fourth. During the next lap Labonte seemed to go into conservative mode giving up two more positions to Brandon Ward and Dennis Holdren.
By lap 40 Gerstner again held a straighaway lead but B.Myers and Holdren were gaining slowly on the leader. By lap 53 Burt Myers became the new leader of the event and two laps later Holdren put Gerstner in his rear view mirror.
A lap 57 caution flag was just what some of the drivers needed to go pit side and adjust thier cars, among them were Holdren and Gerstner. The restart brought B.Myers and Jimmy Wallace to the starting line with Labonte and Danny Bohn in the next row.
Myers looked like a man on a mission with Labonte taking over second and following in Myers tire tracks as the two tried to put distance between themselves and the rest of the pack.
With less than 20 to go a new host of characters were starting to show thier hand. Ward started to make his way to the front with Jason Myers, who had short pitted to gain track position, following.
In the next handfull of laps Ward and Jason Myers put Labonte behind them and by lap 87 Ward took over the front spot with Burt Myers second and Jason Myers third.
On lap 89 James Civali’s bid for victory came to an end when a rear suspension part failed, dropping him from fourth and creating a yellow flag.
With things getting more intense the restart on lap 90 saw a big wreck in turn one elimating Burt Myers, Daniel Yates and Holdren. Jimmy Wallace was also involved but was able to return to the action. This incident caused a 10 minute red flag.
The restart had Ward leading with Jason Myers second and the hard charger of the event, Gerstner third. On the next circut Gerstner passed J.Myers for second and Labonte came from 6th to 3rd. With laps running out Labonte passed Gerstner, who was developing a right front tire issue.
The last caution came on lap 91 when Gary Putnam had a right front tire go flat.
On the restart Labonte powered his way to the lead position and held on to win his first SMART tour victory. Ward was second. Bohn passed a fading Gerstner for third. John Smith and Gerstner rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Jason Myers, Brian Loftin, Chris Fettechiro, Chuck Hossfeld,Jimmy Wallace.
In victory lane Labonte said “It was good all night, it was fast but the tires were hard to manage. We were lucky we got a caution with 10 to go, we got a tire on the right rear, that helped out.” He added Iif that caution didn’t happen it would be a different ball game. It was fast all night, just had to manage our tires.”
Jeremy Gerstner may have finished fifth in the event but was deffently the hard charger by going out strong, lapping cars by lap 28, leading the first 50 laps and also running the fastest lap of the race.
Gerstner said,”These guys wanted to sandbag and my nickname isn’t The Flying Floridian for nothing, I like to get out front and set the pace.” He added “I started to let off at the flag stand and just roll the corner. Eventualy the car got free and we had to pit and put a new right rear tire on and we drove up to third but the right front tire started going down.” He said “I didn’t need that last caution”.
cautions- lap30- comp. yellow
Story by James Snape
Courtesy of YankeeRacer.com
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