The race is back!
Nascar: Bass Pro Shops MNBA 400 (March 9)
Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500
What: Race 4 of 36 on Winston Cup circuit
Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, GA
When: March 9, 2003
Track Length: 1.54 miles
Race Length: 501.00 miles
Speeds all relative at NASCAR's fastest track
When Atlanta Motor Speedway was redesigned in 1997, it gained a 37,000-seat main grandstand, 44 luxury suites and an expanded press box. Most importantly, the track became the fastest on the Winston Cup circuit. Last year, Bill Elliott won the pole at a shade over 191, and he figures to be one of the favorites Friday in qualifying for the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500.
Swinging in the hammock
B. Labonte wins at Atlanta
Labonte's late charge gives him sixth AMS win
HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) -- Bobby Labonte once again mastered Atlanta Motor Speedway, fighting off a late challenge from Jeff Gordon to win Sunday's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500.
Labonte dominated at times during the 325-lap event and appeared to have things totally under control after passing Gordon for the lead with 44 laps left.
But Jeff Burton brought out a caution flag on lap 308 when his engine blew and he scraped the fourth-turn wall.
That gave Gordon a shot at Labonte on the restart on lap 313, and he took advantage. Gordon pushed the nose of his No. 24 Chevrolet under Labonte's No. 18 Chevy and finally nosed in front on the backstretch.
Labonte, the 2000 Winston Cup champion, stayed with Gordon, got right on his rear bumper and made him wiggle in the fourth turn. Labonte then shoved his way alongside as the two got to the flagstand, then zoomed into the lead as the leaders drove into turn one on the 1.54-mile quad-oval.
Moments later, Labonte began pulling away from Gordon, driving off to a 20 car-length lead over the next few laps and winning by 1.274 seconds -- half a straightaway. There were 23 lead changes, but Labonte led a race-high 172 laps.
Gordon "just kept us honest," Labonte said. "That guy was just so fast. The restarts were terrible, but the car was good."
It was Labonte's sixth victory here in the last 12 races, though first since November 2001. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, defending Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart won this race last year.
It was Labonte's 20th career victory and his first with Michael "Fatback" McSwain as his crew chief.
Gordon, who started 30th in the 43-car field, didn't appear too disappointed by his runner-up finish. He started the season without a top-10 placing in the first three races for the first time in his career.
Labonte "had the best car all day," Gordon said. "He was just so strong. I learned some things from him today.
"We showed we can run up front and finish in the top five. Now we just have to keep doing it."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. came from 37th place to finish third, giving Chevrolet a sweep of the top three. Ford driver Matt Kenseth, the winner last week in Las Vegas, was fourth, followed by Stewart, Elliott Sadler, Jimmy Spencer, Dave Blaney and Gordon's teammate Joe Nemechek, the last driver on the lead lap.
Kenseth moved into the series lead, 49 points ahead of Stewart. Michael Waltrip, who came into the race as the leader, never got into contention, finished 27th and fell to third, 75 points behind.
Labonte's victory vaulted him from 13th to fifth, 108 behind Kenseth and nine behind fourth-place Jimmie Johnson, who blew an engine and finished 32nd after running in the top 10 most of the day.
The race went 135 laps -- 212 miles -- before Mark Martin's second blown engine in as many weeks brought out the first of seven caution flags. The average speed to that point was more than 177 mph and Labonte's winning average was 146.048.
The pace took a heavy toll on engines. Hardest hit was Roush Racing, which lost Martin, Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton to engine problems.
Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO what a ride!" -- Steve Parker
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The race is back!
Ili, I merged this in with the race announcement, it seemed to fit.
Too bad Gordon couldn't catch up.
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