Bobby Labonte capped a record-setting day of lead changes by passing Tony Stewart coming off the final turn of the final lap to win the Aaron's 312 NASCAR Busch Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday.
Labonte's pass was the 36th of the race, a record for lead changes in a Busch Series event. The previous mark was 35 lead changes, set twice at Daytona International Speedway in 1984 and 1986.
A total of 20 different drivers led the race, breaking the record for a Busch Series event at Talladega Superspeedway.
"I think I passed three times the amount of cars that started the race," Stewart said, describing the pass-happy afternoon.
The victory was Labonte's first of any kind since winning a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in April 2005, and his first Busch Series victory since 1998.
Labonte won the race by using an old-fashioned slingshot move coming off Turn 4 to pass Stewart, his former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing. Labonte hugged the rear of Stewart’s car through Turn 4, then moved past Stewart on the outside and beat him to the finish line by .052 seconds (approximately one car length).
"Coming down through the tri-oval, I thought, 'Well, I could push Tony to the win or I could try it myself,’ " Labonte said. "I went to the right side, and it just slowed him down. I went to the right and I’m like, 'Dude, that was a good move.’ "
Casey Mears finished third and rookie David Ragan was fourth, his best Busch Series finish of the season. Fellow rookie Kyle Krisiloff finished fifth, followed by Kevin Harvick in sixth, Juan Pablo Montoya seventh, Ward Burton eighth and pole-sitter Brad Coleman ninth.
Points leader Carl Edwards came in 10th, the first time this season that he has finished worse than sixth in a Busch Series race.
Martin Truex Jr., who had won the past three Busch Series races at Talladega Superspeedway, got caught up in an early accident and finished 41st.
Stewart remains winless at Talladega Superspeedway, and has now finished second at the track a total of seven times (the other six were in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races). But Stewart said afterward that rather than being upset at barely missing out on a victory at Talladega once again, he was excited for his former teammate.
“That’s probably the happiest I’ve ever been to run second and lose a race in my life,” Stewart said. “The funny part was all of the sudden coming through the tri-oval I feel the car slow down, and I look up and he is to the right of me and I was laughing. I had just lost, and I swore I’d just won the race. The situation was just funny.”
“To see how excited he was with his fist out the window pumping, I’ll take a second like that any day. That was a cool finish for us. … If you could plan the perfect way to lose a race and finish second, that was the way to do it.”
Labonte picked up 14 of his 21 career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victories - and the 2000 Cup championship - while he was Stewart’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing. But Labonte, who parted ways with Gibbs after the 2005 season, has not won a Cup race since 2003. So he said he appreciates Stewart being excited for his victory on Saturday.
“I think Tony has probably seen me in all different aspects of good and bad in my career,” Labonte said. “I’ve been with him as a teammate for most of my career. He has seen the good days of me and he has seen the days where I’ve been frustrated. He has always believed in me and fought for me.”
“I was excited (to win), I know that. I think he was just as thrilled for me.”