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Tuesday, August 14
Labonte tired of endless speculation
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- There's one Winston Cup champion who
doesn't expect surprises when NASCAR releases its report next week
on Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash in February.
"I feel pretty sure I understand and know what happened," said
Bobby Labonte, the 2000 series champion who tested at Darlington
Raceway on Monday. "All this has done from February until now is
made me read the paper less and believe less what other people
Labonte, who drives with a head and neck restraint system,
thinks his colleagues and rival teams long ago determined how to
respond after Earnhardt's crash, which took place on the last lap
of the Daytona 500 and followed the racing deaths of Adam Petty,
Kenny Irwin Jr. and Tony Roper in 2000.
What comes out of NASCAR's official investigative report in
Atlanta on Aug. 21, Labonte says, probably won't affect what's
already happened in the garage.
"We've taken the safety measurements on our parts, drivers
parts, crew chiefs, car owners, to make it better," Labonte said.
"You can always make it better, but we don't need an expert to
tell us that. That has already started trouble before."
Soon after Earnhardt's death, Daytona International Speedway
physician Steve Bohannon said he thought a broken seat belt found
in Earnhardt's cockpit allowed the driver's head to strike the
steering wheel. The force of the blow cracked the base of his skull
and caused massive head injuries, Bohannon said.
However, The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that NASCAR's
investigation will not blame the seat belt for Earnhardt's death.
Petty and Irwin, like Earnhardt, died from skull fractures
caused by a whipping motion of the head at the moment of impact.
Roper died from massive head injuries.
Labonte sounded weary after the months of questions about the
accident, whose aftermath has dominated and clouded NASCAR's
Earnhardt was third on the last lap of the season's first race
when he rammed the wall at full force. And the speculation of the
accident's cause has been almost as regular as the weekly race
tributes for the fallen seven-time Winston Cup champion.
That led Labonte, a chatty, polite, 37-year-old, to put down the
newspaper and flick off the television shows that piped up opinions
without, he thought, too many facts.
"I try not to speculate. Fact is fact," he said. "Speculation
is horse crap."
Labonte's crew chief, Jimmy Makar, said car owner Joe Gibbs
didn't hesitate in checking every aspect of safety for his teams
including restraint devices and seat-belt positioning. Besides
Labonte, Gibbs owns Tony Stewart's No. 20 car.
"It's something we always want to do," Makar said.
Makar said it will be good to have the official stamp from the
sanctioning body on what happened to Earnhardt. "That needs to be
done," the crew chief said.
But he said teams didn't wait for official word before improving
"I think just about everybody's changed how they've done their
driver's cockpit," Makar said. "Things we took for granted for so
long, we never knew that something like that could happen. It has
made us all more aware." Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories