Brett Bodine

Unfulfilled rage: When Terry Labonte sought revenge vs. Dale Earnhardt

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“Didn’t mean to really turn him around, meant to rattle his cage, though.”

It’s been almost 20 years since Dale Earnhardt, with a towel wrapped around his neck and a grin on his face, uttered this iconic phrase in Victory Lane after the 1999 Wintson Cup night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Not grinning was NASCAR’s “Iceman” – Terry Labonte after Earnhardt knocked him out of the lead on the final lap, sending Labonte’s No. 5 Chevrolet spinning and into the inside wall while Earnhardt headed for his ninth win at that track.

Four years after a similar ending in the 1995 race, the accident sent fans into an angry uproar directed at Earnhardt. If Labonte, known for his calm demeanor, had gotten his way after the checkered flag, it would have resulted in a real-life version of a scene from Days of Thunder.

“He might be going to Victory Lane, but that No. 5 is going to be stuck in that side of that thing,’ ” Labonte said he thought.

But his Kellogg’s Chevrolet betrayed him at the last moment.

Labonte recounted his side of the infamous race Sunday night when he was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame.

The build up to Labonte’s boiling point began with about 10 laps to go. While leading the race, the two-time Cup champion was spun for the first time that night.

Here’s what Labonte had to say.

“I look up and my brother (Bobby Labonte) is running around on the apron, leaking oil on the apron. I thought, ‘What is he doing? Get off the track.’ Sure enough, here comes the caution flag. … I remember it like it was yesterday. I was coming through (Turns) 3 and 4, the caution is out. I was fixing to lap Brett Bodine. I went, ‘I don’t want to lap him again.’ So I slowed up here so I don’t put him another lap down. All of sudden, somebody, my buddy Darrell Waltrip, runs in the back of me and spins me out. Nobody remembers that part. That started a chain of events right there.

“So I’m sitting here backwards, right? And I thought, ‘What in the world happened? He just spun me out.’ So here comes Dale by, here comes everybody else by. … Well, Dale was pitting on the back straightaway so everybody thought he stayed out, but he really didn’t stay out because he had to wait until he could go around to the back straightaway.

“So a bunch of guys didn’t pit. I got my car cranked and took off. So we’re the last car on the lead lap. It’s only seven cars or so. I came down pit road, put on four tires. When you have four tires at Bristol and everybody else doesn’t have tires, you look like a hero, you know?”

(The race restarted with five laps to go.)

“I was coming through there, I was passing everybody and got to Dale on the last lap. We bumped a little bit coming off (Turn) 4 and went down into (Turn) 1. I kind of had a bad angle. My car bottomed out and Dale hit me. Spun me out.

“I said, ‘Sh….shoot.'” *laughter* I was spinning down the back straightaway. The car’s nosed into the wall there. I thought, ‘Man, I cannot believe this.’ I can hear the crowd yelling. I mean the crowd was yelling. … I looked up and I see that No. 3 coming off Turn 2 after he got the checkered. This is the part, people after that race said, ‘Man, you were so cool. How’d you did do that? You were so cool. You just got wrecked and you were just so calm and everything.’

“Well, the story was…I had my car, I cranked it back up. When I see the 3 coming, I thought, ‘You know what? He might be going to Victory Lane, but that No. 5 is going to be stuck in that side of that thing.'”

*laughter*

“I had that timed perfect. It was perfect. I had it in reverse and here he comes. Man, I revved it up and popped the clutch on that thing and it tore the reverse gear out of it after it went about three inches. I just got out and I said, ‘Oh, shoot,’ again. Walked to my trailer and changed clothes and went home.”

The race, along with the 1995 version, are now honored with banners in the Bristol grandstands commemorating the track’s history.

Watch the ending of the 1999 race in the video above as Labonte recounts his tale below.

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NASCAR Xfinity Series to use composite body for three races this season

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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NASCAR Xfinity teams will be allowed to use a flange-fit composite body for races at Richmond, Dover and Phoenix, series officials announced Wednesday.

The announcement is part of NASCAR’s move toward the composite body, which series officials said could provide cost savings for teams. The composite body can be used in 2018 for all races except superspeedway events. Series officials plan to make composite bodies mandatory for all Xfinity races in 2019.

Whether this will transfer to Cup remains to be seen.

“Right now we’re 100 percent focused on the success of this body in Xfinity,’’ said Brett Bodine, senior director of R&D at NASCAR, during a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll certainly learn about the performance of the body and the durability, and certainly always look at potentially moving things into other series, but currently we are just worried about Xfinity.’’

The composite body has 13 separate panels that attach together on flanges. Bodine said several body panels have security features to prevent teams from tampering with them to gain an advantage.

The body panels come from Five Star RaceCar Bodies in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.

NASCAR said the inspection process won’t change for teams with the composite body.

If a car crashes during practice, repairs to the car body should be easier, NASCAR states.

“Say you damage a right rear quarterpanel,’’ Bodine said. “It can be easily unbolted from the other body panels and from the chassis and another one can be bolted on in its place. And not only at a race event weekend, but that is how we envision this repair process taking place after an event. The turnaround time for a team that might have received damage at an event should be significantly reduced by the fact that these panels can be unbolted and a new one put on.’’

Wayne Auton, Xfinity Series managing director, said that the damaged vehicle policy remains. Teams will not be able to add new parts to the car during a race.

While NASCAR typically doesn’t create rule changes during the playoffs, Xfinity teams will run twice in the playoffs with the composite body.

“We looked at different models to roll this out, preferably in 2017,’’ Auton said. “Number one, we wanted to get it on the racetrack.  We’ve worked for a year to get the body finalized. We’re at the point now that teams are putting race cars together. They’re getting to do some aero testing with them. 

“So we feel confident that whenever they go into these three races …  that you won’t see a significant difference in the competition. We think it’ll bring the competition closer together, and that was just a collaborative effort of the teams on the type of racetrack that we wanted to start them on, and working with our third‑party vendor of when parts could be ready for teams.’’

For those teams that choose the steel body instead of the composite body at Richmond, Dover and Phoenix, they’ll face significant challenges.

“There will be competition restrictions on the steel body versus the flange fit,’’ Bodine said. “Obviously we want the flange fit to be the body of the future and phase out the steel body. There will be weight and aero differences between the two to make sure that the flange fit body has a competitive advantage.’’

The Xfinity Rule Book notes the difference in weight between the two car body styles. A composite body car with a driver who weighs between 130-139 pounds can have a minimum total combined weight for the driver and car of 3,540-3,549 pounds. That will be about 90 pounds lighter than a the minimum combined weight for a car and a similar driver in a steel body vehicle.

Another advantage that Bodine touts is the potential savings teams could experience as they use the composite body more.

“The efficiencies of using a composite flange fit body really are across the board from potentially needing less chassis to do the Xfinity Series because of the turnaround time on repairs, to the actual amount of time it takes to hang a complete new body on a chassis,’’ Bodine said. “The repairs most likely can be done by the team instead of potentially having to farm it out to a body hanger that they do business with now with the steel bodies. There’s a lot of areas that this cost savings of this type body will provide for the team owners.’’

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