Mar 31, 1996
The Food City 500 was shortened to 342 laps due to rain.
The pit-stop strategy Terry Labonte used in the rain-shortened Food City 500 at Bristol International Raceway on Sunday should have won the race.
The confusing turn of events came between two red flags during the final 11 laps. Gordon was leading when a yellow flag flew on lap 321 because of rain. Labonte was running fifth. The cars ran 11 laps under yellow before NASCAR threw the red flag to stop the cars because of a passing shower. But moments before the red flag flew, Labonte slipped into the pits. Because his car was the last one on the lead lap, he had no concern about losing track position.
As the cars stopped on the backstretch for the red flag, Labonte lined up at the end of the entire field in the single-file line that NASCAR set up. After a 33-minute delay, the rain eased and NASCAR switched from a red to a yellow flag. At this point, the other cars on the lead lap needed to make pit stops. And Labonte should have then inherited the lead.
But here's what happened: The pace car started up at the end of the backstretch and took the leaders around turns 3 and 4, and let them enter the pits. "When we restarted the pace car and it pulled away, several drivers did not go promptly," Winston Cup director Gary Nelson said. "Labonte could not pass any of those guys. They were dragging their feet. And by the time he got rolling, the leaders were finishing their pit stops." Gordon and Wallace managed to pull out of the pits and re-enter the track before Labonte reached the start/finish line to take the lead. Wallace then pitted again to top off his tank, yielding second place to Labonte.
The green then flew for three laps before Darrell Waltrip crashed, spilling fuel on the track, prompting the third red flag. Then it began to rain again, and that turned out to be the end of it.
"We should have been over in Victory Lane, drinking champagne," said Labonte's crew chief, Gary DeHart. "But I gotta say, yeah, I'm OK with it. "I realize everybody is human and make mistakes. NASCAR should not have opened pit road for the leaders until all the cars got going. But it all worked out. A team car won. And they were better than us on the racetrack."