Elliott blows tire, lead at Homestead

Posted: Monday, November 17, 2003

HOMESTEAD, Fla. A blown tire on the last lap cost Bill Elliott a second straight victory and gave Bobby Labonte the win Sunday in the era-ending Winston Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Elliott had a dominating victory a week ago at Rockingham and was even stronger in the Ford 400, leading 189 of 267 laps on the reconfigured 1 1/2-mile Homestead oval.

He held off Labonte on a restart nine laps from the end and pulled away, driving into the first turn of the last lap leading Labonte by about five car-lengths and apparently on the way to an easy win.

As Elliott drove off turn two on the track newly changed from a nearly flat 6 degrees of banking to 20 degrees, his Dodge wiggled and slowed as his right rear tire came apart.

That sent pieces of sheet metal and rubber flying and ignited a fire in the wheelwell.

Labonte, who struggled early in the race and had not led a lap all day, shot past Elliott on the backstretch and beat runner-up Kevin Harvick to the finish line by 1.749 seconds half the front straightaway.

Crew chief Michael ''Fatback'' McSwain kept telling Labonte on the radio in the final laps not to give up, but Elliott's problem caught the winner by surprise.

''Oh man, I couldn't believe it, I just couldn't believe it,'' Labonte said, shaking his head. ''Fatback kept saying, 'Keep going, he'll make a mistake.' But I told him Bill was just playing with me.

''The beginning of the race was just terrible for me, but the track came back to me and we finally got some luck.''

Elliott, a former series champion, held on to finish eighth and took the loss in stride.

''Our Dodge ran so well today and it's just an unfortunate thing,'' he said.

''I don't know if I've ever won one like that, but I've sure lost them like that. Obviously, it wasn't our day.''

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