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B. Labonte Rode Racing Rocket to Dream Brickyard Victory in 2000

Bobby Labonte spent most of the 2000 Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard in second place, chasing down leader Rusty Wallace. From Laps 85-145, he never fell more than half a second behind Wallace’s blue and white No. 2 car.

During green flag pit stops with less than 40 laps go to, Labonte had a taste of the lead. He exited pit road and merged onto the backstretch ahead of Wallace. Wallace chased the green No. 18 down and had the momentum. He passed Labonte on the high side through Turn 3, and Wallace’s rear bumper became a familiar sight to Labonte yet again.

During that final run to the finish, Labonte knew he couldn’t pass Wallace on his own. Wallace had the speed on the straightaways, while Labonte was quicker in the corners. With track position being so important, Labonte knew it was going to take a mistake for him to get the lead.

With 15 laps to go, Labonte cued the radio.

“Man, I don’t know if I can catch him,” he said to crew chief Jimmy Makar while heading into Turn 3. “Wait. Hold on a second…”

Wallace slipped up entering Turn 3.

Labonte had his chance – and took it. He dove to the inside of Wallace, and they raced side-by-side through the North Short Chute and through Turn 4. Down the frontstretch, Wallace had a slight advantage over Labonte.

Then there was contact.

Labonte’s right front tapped Wallace’s left rear. The touch was enough to pull Wallace back a bit, and Labonte had the momentum again down the frontstretch. By the time they got to Turn 1, Labonte was clear, with no looking back.

Within a lap, Labonte put one second between his Interstate Batteries Pontiac and Wallace’s Miller Lite Ford. To use one of Wallace’s broadcasting phrases, Labonte was flat flying.

The speed Labonte showed at the end of the race was no surprise to him. He insists to this day that machine was the best race car he’s driven. Ever.

“I had never felt that good about a race car in all the years I raced,” he said. “I won races, but not like that. That car just seemed like it was perfect. I just had something that day that was so good. Leading up to it and going to bed the night before, I had never felt that good about a car. I always felt good, but I didn’t have that much confidence.”

Back then, there was the fear that a runaway leader would force NASCAR officials to call a caution to bunch the field and make the race more exciting. Labonte pulled away so quickly that Makar came over the radio and told his driver to slow down. He didn’t want that caution. Labonte told Makar he was going slow. He was letting off the throttle early and using minimal throttle down the straightaways. He couldn’t help it. The car was that good.

The best car ever wasn’t just the best at the end. Labonte could feel it during practice the day before. He remembers making minimal changes, mainly just springs, and he felt it in the seat, as most race car drivers do.

“Usually I get up Sunday morning and tweak something or change something just a little bit based on your thought process and what you think the race is going to be like,” he said. “But I was like, ‘I don’t want to sound cocky, but we got a really fast race car.’ I felt so good in it. It felt so good. I never had that feeling in any other race car.”

The box score that day shows domination: Labonte won by 4.229 seconds. However, he only led 21 laps. Wallace led 110. But Labonte insists the box score doesn’t tell the true excitement of that race Aug. 5, 2000.

“That was great,” he said. “With 10 laps to go, the drama was high, and the race itself was great. The finish might have cooled off because I passed him with 10 laps to go and not on the last lap, but this place … God, it’s so hard to win here. It’s so difficult. It was incredible for me.”

The second place for Wallace was one of three at the Brickyard during his career, along with five top-five’s and nine top-10’s.

“I was just too tight going into Turn 3 and exiting it, and that’s where Bobby got me,” Wallace said. “I knew if he was going to get me anywhere that was going to be the spot, because I was weak there all day long.”

That Brickyard win was one of four victories that year for Labonte en route to the series championship. That career-defining season built a resume that has him set to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January 2020.

Labonte is one of six drivers to win the Brickyard and a series championship in the same year, with Kyle Busch is the most recent in 2015. Labonte said it’s no coincidence.

“When you come to the Brickyard and you have years where you’re that successful throughout the year, you’re going to come here with greatness to win,” he said. “I don’t think that anybody comes here that’s having a dismal year that comes out and says, ‘We’re going to win the Brickyard.’ You better be good all the time. This place just amplifies greatness, and greatness is your car and your team. It’s a different level.”

Labonte said the Brickyard win is one of the top-three victories of his career.

“It’s crazy what this place means for us to come here,” he said. “This place is amazing.”

Tickets for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line, FGL Fest, the Indiana 250 and the Driven2SaveLives BC39 Powered by NOS Energy Drink are available at IMS.com.

 
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