Commentary

Big wreck at Talladega puts big hurt on No. 43 Cup team

After a rocky weekend at Talladega, Bobby Labonte hopes to gain some ground in a special "Speed Racer" paint scheme at Richmond, writes crew chief Jeff Meendering.

Updated: May 1, 2008, 4:55 PM ET
By Jeff Meendering | Special to ESPN.com

Bobby LabonteAP Photo/Greg McWilliamsBobby Labonte (43) gets collected in a costly crash Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Well, things were kind of going as planned at Talladega. Bobby kind of hung out there and rode out the race, and when it was time to go, with 20 to go, he hooked up with Tony Stewart. With 15 to go … it just didn't work out for us. We got caught up in the wreck. What's disappointing, the cars we were racing moved up in points but we slipped to 23rd. The 42 car was another one we were racing for points, and he moved into 12th. That hurt us. We were looking to have a good points day.

Now we go on to Richmond, and one of the biggest things with Richmond, it's a fast track. You want to run as much tape on the nose as possible to get the most downforce. You play a balancing act of brakes and front downforce -- you want maximum downforce, but you can't risk a brake failure. We've got our brake duct openings in the nose and we calculate how much brake and opening we need and then we slap some tape on there. Hopefully we use the same amount of brake that we do in practice. Honestly, your brake sensors are real touchy. You can get them too cool, and you'll start getting pad buildup and that can cause you as much trouble as getting too hot.

The other thing is, we don't practice at night for a night race. It's an impound race, so Friday is going to be a long day. We get to the track at 7 a.m., and we practice from 11 to 1. After that, we have to do all of the race preps, and then we have qualifying at 5:40. Because we have to be in line at 3:40, that really gives you between 1 and 3:40 to do all your race preparation since we can't touch the car after 5:40.

In some cases, I like having an impound race. Talladega is a good race to be an impound because you honestly don't need that much practice. Richmond is tough because after practice, you have that 2 hours and 40 minutes. We're going to have to change brake pads and rotors, and that's really time-consuming. You also have to come up with a setup, so there will be a lot going on. We're going to bring a couple extra guys with us just for that turnaround.

Bobby's car is going to have a special paint scheme this weekend for the new movie "Speed Racer." I didn't watch the show until they started airing it on MTV. The car actually does look pretty cool. It's going to have white wheels, and with all the Richmond brake dust, that could get pretty interesting. What we're going to do is qualify and start the race with the white wheels, and because we can't paint every wheel we own, we'll switch over to the black ones during the race.

Personally, I like Saturday night races. I have the same background as a lot of people in this sport, so I came from Saturday night racing. It's nice to be home on Sunday, although this Sunday we might be busy getting ready for the Lowe's test on Monday. It's a test that's going to be good for us. I don't feel like we're as strong as we need to be on the intermediate tracks. We have a little more room to improve. I would say this is the most testing I've personally done. It's inevitable with this new car. Until everybody gets a grasp on it, unfortunately, it's what everyone has to do.

Jeff Meendering is the first-year crew chief for the famed Petty Enterprises No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge Charger driven by Bobby Labonte. Meendering will take ESPN.com readers inside his life on and off the track each week with the help of writer Angelique S. Chengelis.

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