Bobby Labonte survived two late-race restarts at Nashville Fairgrounds and a battle with his nerves to beat Marco Andretti and win his first Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) race in his ninth start. With the victory, he continues the streak of unique winners in 2022.
It wasn’t the first time Labonte was nervous in Nashville. More than 25 years ago, he won the 1996 Opryland 320 by a tenth of a second over David Green for his only Busch Series win of that season.
Reading just the box score, one might believe he had an easy go of the race, but that was not the case for Labonte.
“I just thought I wasn’t going to win,” Labonte told CBS Sports’ Matt Yocum. “This is so intimidating with these drivers. I’m telling you I get nervous. I thought I was going to puke with 10 to go.
“I see Matt Kenseth coming and I think I’ve seen this story before. I’m like, oh my god, here he comes. So, it’s just so hard. It’s not easy. Maybe I made it look a little easy tonight, but it wasn’t easy.”
Choosing the bottom line with restarts at 17 and 10 laps to go, Labonte’s experience in stock cars insured he would not be run up the track, but that did not make him immune to contact. On the penultimate restart, he was doored by Andretti as the two battled for position on the front stretch. He learned his lesson and refused to allow the field to get close on the final restart – shooting to the lead the moment the green flag was displayed.
As hard as he raced for the lead, Andretti was content with a good points day and his fifth top-five in the last six SRX events.
“[Labonte] shot out of a cannon right at the start of the feature, so I knew he was a force to be reckoned with there,” Andretti said. “I think the fastest car won, for sure. I was one step of rear grip away getting in and coming off. If I could have gotten the power off a little bit better, I think I would have gotten closer at the end.
“Those Cup guys know just how far to pull away at the end so you can’t get to their back bumper.”
In his SRX Series debut, Kenseth rounded out the podium in third.
“I felt like I really flopped around in my heat races,” Kenseth said, with his wife and children standing behind him on pit road. “My car got real loose. I burned the rear tires up. I felt like I didn’t have any clue what I was doing. In the feature, the car was better when I put tires on and fixed the stagger and everything, but I just puttered around for 50 laps.
“I was trying to figure out how much time I needed to get to the front. I quick-passed two or three of them and then I thought I was good and we got a couple of cautions with outside restarts and we kind of got mixed up, so I ran out of time.”
Paul Tracy swept the top five with a fourth in Heat 1, fifth in Heat 2 and his fourth-place finish in the Main.
Helio Castroneves rounded out the top five.
It was a bad night for both of the heat winners.
Also making his debut, Newgarden, a Henderson, Tenn. native, led flag-to-flag in Heat 1 and pulled away from the field. He was running fifth in the Main on Lap 49 of 75 when he looped his car and crashed.
Hometown hero Cole Williams won Heat 2 after finishing last in the first race, but he couldn’t quite find the speed needed in the feature and finished 12th in the 13-car field.
Feature: 1. Bobby Labonte, 2. Marco Andretti, 3. Matt Kenseth, 4. Paul Tracy, 5. Helio Castroneves, 6. Ryan Newman, 7. Michael Waltrip, 8. Josef Newgarden, 9. Greg Biffle, 10. Ryan Hunter-Reay, 11. Tony Stewart, 12. Cole Williams, 13. Tony Kanaan
Heat 1: 1 Josef Newgarden, 2. Helio Castroneves, 3. Bobby Labonte, 4. Paul Tracy, 5. Marco Andretti, 6. Tony Stewart, 7. Ryan Newman, 8. Matt Kenseth, 9. Michael Waltrip, 10. Greg Biffle, 11. Ryan Hunter-Reay, 12. Tony Kanaan, 13. Cole Williams
Heat 2: 1. Cole Williams, 2. Marco Andretti, 3. Greg Biffle, 4. Bobby Labonte, 5. Paul Tracy, 6. Ryan Newman, 7. Ryan Hunter-Reay, 8. Tony Kanaan, 9. Helio Castroneves, 10. Josef Newgarden, 11. Matt Kenseth, 12. Michael Waltrip, 13. Tony Stewart
Round 1: Helio Castroneves wins at Five Flags, hopes for NASCAR start
Round 2: Tony Stewart earns third SRX victory and first on a paved track
Round 3: Ryan Newman wins at Stafford as his daughters look on
We won! @SRXracing 🏁Congratulations My Love @Bobby_Labonte ♥️
@SportClips #LabonteRacingRoadtrip#SRX pic.twitter.com/k1mFV0EM1E
— KristinLabonte (@KristinLabonte) July 10, 2022