Labbe must serve race suspension


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – An appeals committee upheld Richard “Slugger” Labbe’s suspension, sidelining Dale Jarrett’s crew chief for the next four weeks.

NASCAR said that Labbe illegally mounted the sway bar on Jarrett’s car two weeks ago in Richmond. He was also fined $25,000, and Jarrett and car owner Robert Yates were each docked 25 points in their respective standings.

Labbe appealed the severity of the penalty, arguing that he was not blatantly cheating but rather exploiting a loophole he believes he found in NASCAR’s rule book.

In upholding the penalty, a three-member panel of the National Stock Car Racing Commission said that Labbe had been previously advised the sway bar was illegal and warned not to mount it that way again. The Commission also noted that the penalties were consistent to ones handed down to crew chiefs Chad Knaus and Todd Berrier.

Labbe said he was not surprised with the decision.

“I went there expecting to lose based on past history,” he said Wednesday night while watching his team compete in the Nextel Pit Crew Challenge. “It would not have been fair to Chad Knaus and Todd Berrier to not suspend me.”

But Labbe was adamant his infraction was not flagrant cheating, that he was only working in a gray area of the rule book. He speculated his penalty was harsh because NASCAR will no longer tolerate pushing the envelope.

“The message they are sending is: This Car of Tomorrow is coming out and we’re not going to put up with any (stuff),” Labbe said. “I only wish if they were going to suspend me it was for soaking tires or traction control, not my interpretation of the rules.” NASCAR officials at the Pit Crew Challenge declined to comment.

Labbe will begin serving his suspension this week and will not be cleared to return to competition until the June 18 event in Michigan. Meanwhile, the Commission also upheld penalties levied against Busch Series driver Aaron Fike’s team, which failed a post-race inspection last month at Nashville Superspeedway.

Car owner Mike Curb was fined 25 points, Fike lost 25 points and crew chief Joe Shear was fined $10,000 and placed on probation.

The team denied the severity of the penalties, but the Commission found that they were consistent with past infractions.

AP-ES-05-17-06 2052EDT