Joe Gibbs Racing Teammates Comment On The Big One
April 17, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Just ask Tony Stewart, who had time to wave out the window of his No. 20 Pontiac at his Gibbs' teammate Bobby Labonte during a lull in the action.
But that was before the "Big One."
"At one point we were kind of at the back of the pack and had a little bit of a gap back there just to make sure that if something happened that we had plenty of time to react," Stewart said. "I just kind of got bored and pulled up beside Bobby and waved to him, then dropped back in line. He was so comfortable in his car he switched over to our frequency and started talking to us."
Labonte and Stewart, who both took provisionals to make the field, started 37th and 39th respectively, and were slowly making their way through the field in tandem.
"I told Bobby since I started behind him at the beginning of the race that wherever he went, I went," Stewart said. "That's what our game plan was at the start. We went through the first two-thirds of the race that way. Everywhere he went on the racetrack I followed him. He just kind of explained that there were some guys up there doing some things that might get ugly in a couple laps, so we were just back there being patient. Sure enough when it came time to race at the end, the big wreck happened."
Labonte's prophecy came to fruition on Lap 138 when Scott Pruett clipped Robby Gordon on the frontstretch and sent him spinning into the surrounding pack of cars. Seventeen drivers were involved including Stewart and Labonte.
Stewart’s Pontiac was done for the day, but Labonte, who was leading the point's race coming into Talladega Superspeedway, valiantly returned his carnage to the track and salvaged a 21st-place finish.
"I basically raced three laps all day long right before that wreck, and then didn't race any after that," Labonte said. "I really didn't race any before that. I just rode around half throttle. You couldn't lose the draft because they were three-wide and four-wide, so you would just suck right back up and slow down a little bit. I'm not sure if that's racing or not. It sure didn't look like it. But it could have been a lot worse."
Yes, it could certainly have been. Although Labonte lost the points series lead to Mark Martin, the difference is only 24 points and there are 25 races remaining on the schedule. But Labonte is grateful for the handy work of No. 18 Pontiac crew and is counting his blessings that he didn't leave Talladega with a DNF.
"We were very fortunate we ended up like we did," Labonte said. "To go through a wreck like that and only get torn up sheet metal-wise, knock the toe out a little bit and still finish 21st is a pretty big tribute to the guys. It could have been a lot worse. We took a bad day and made the best out of it. We could have been 38th real easy. I think some of those guys that wrecked might have ended up that far back."
That was the case for his teammate Stewart, who finished 34th continues to suffer through a sophomore slump. Talladega accounted for Stewart's third DNF of the season and he slid from 10th to 13th in points. Like many of fellow drivers, Stewart is not a big fan of restrictor-plate racing. Lucky for him, he has two-and-a-half months to prepare for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
"I never liked restrictor plate racing anyway," Stewart said. "I don't think it's real racing to begin with. But the fans like it and I guess that's the main thing, as long as we're putting on a good show for the fans."
And while the fans are on their feet, 43 competitors will try to maintain their composure while playing the waiting game.
"Bobby and I rode around three-quarter throttle most of the day just waiting -- waiting for that wreck to happen," Stewart added. "You make your last pit top and you go back out, and then you get caught in it when it's time to go racing. We tried to be careful all day and as soon as it was time to go, then we got in that wreck. It's just frustrating. I wouldn't call that real racing. It's not real racing, but it's real entertaining I guess."