Labonte Survives Chicago Fire
July 15, 2003 | 2:08 A.M. EST
After a restart, with and the entire field bunched up, Labonte was running in about the 18th position, one-lap down and was trying to work his way back to the front to make a charge to get his lap back. As the field entered turn three on lap 212, Johnny Benson came into contact with another car and unfortunately made contact with the left rear of Labonte's car sending it into a violent spin towards the turn three wall. It didn't take long for the damage to occur as the Interstate Batteries Chevrolet burst into flames and came to a rest in the infield grass just before the entrance of pit road thus ending the day for Labonte.
"It was pretty incredible to say the least," explained Labonte. "It got plenty hot in there for me. It looked like someone got into the No. 10 car (Johnny Benson) and he got down low and spun to the inside and clipped me in the left rear I guess. It was pretty close. I thought I had it made. We backed into the fence and then we had this problem with the fuel cell blowing up again and it makes for a bad scene. It looked worse than it was. I just want to tell everybody back home that I'm fine."
In what has become a much too frequent problem this season in NASCAR, Labonte's fiery crash was the third of its kind since the beginning of June. And while Labonte was okay following the accident, you could see his frustration as he pounded the ground with his fist after escaping the inferno.
"It was just frustrating, you know," said Labonte. "The fire was one thing, but it was just frustrating to be out of the race. We had to battle back there and got up to 13th. It's just frustrating that it had to happen. You hate to see it. All the safety stuff in the car worked great and I feel fine. I smell like a BBQ pit, but other than that I feel fine."
Up until the time of the accident, Labonte had been having a roller coaster of a day after starting the day in the 18th position. Losing a lap to the leaders on the 65th circuit, Labonte and the team never gave up and continued to claw and fight to get back on the lead lap. During a stretch from lap 134 until the team had to pit on lap 172 for fuel and tires, Labonte was actually on the tail end of the lead lap after passing Jeff Gordon on a restart.
"If we had only been able to get a caution then we might have been able to be racing for the lead and not back in the pack," admitted Labonte. "We were so loose at the beginning of the race, but Fatback (Michael McSwain) and the guys kept adjusting on it. We got a little tight just before the wreck, but the car was definitely better. I hate that our day ended the way it did. The car is ruined and we really took a hit in the points. I guess in the grand scheme of things, it's okay. I am fine and I am going home to see my family. I know I should be pretty thankful."