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The finish to Sunday’s Brickyard 400 was an extraordinary day for Maine’s small but close-knit Sprint Cup community. Slugger Labbe guided Paul Menard to his first Sprint Cup victory at Indianapolis from atop the pit box where crew chiefs mastermind race strategy.

That’s Slugger Labbe from Saco. Regan Smith took third, with crew chief Pete Rondeau of Saco calling the shots.

Now imagine if Steve Letarte were still the crew chief for Jeff Gordon, who finished second. Letarte, who spent the first decade of his life in Cornish, was moved from Gordon’s car to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew by team owner Rick Hendrick before the start of the season.

No one buys tickets to watch crew chiefs, but go ahead and smile at Maine stock car fans who may be a little full of it this week.

Labbe went south more than 20 years ago, hitching a ride with Tommy Houston when the former Busch South veteran pulled off the Saco exit after running in the old Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway.

From sweeping the floors in Houston’s race shop, Labbe joined Terry Labonte’s team before becoming a crew chief for the first time with Robert Yates Racing and driver Kenny Irwin Jr., who had moved into the Texaco-sponsored car made famous by Davey Allison.

Crew chiefs can be like major league managers or NBA head coaches, moving from job to job. Labbe worked with Michael Waltrip when he won the Daytona 500 in 2003. Jeremy Mayfield had Labbe in his ear. So did Dale Jarrett. So did former Formula I champ Jacques Villeneuve.

Now it’s Paul Menard, a driver with a famous last name in IndyCar circles but who had done very little in NASCAR. Until Sunday.

Labbe had Menard conserve fuel when he could before telling him late in the race to “race like hell.” The two had been together driving for Richard Petty’s team before rival team owner Richard Childress defied the bad economy and added a fourth car to start this season.

For all his bad-boy outbursts, Kyle Busch can charm. Before he left Oxford Plains Speedway after winning the TD Bank 250 some 10 days ago, Busch talked about his time with track legend Mike Rowe of Turner. He talked about Jeff Taylor of Farmington, the multi-time track champion after Rowe went elsewhere to race. Busch also drew 17-year-old Austin Theriault of Fort Kent into the conversation.

By mentioning those drivers by name and others, Busch became less the big-time Sprint Cup mercenary.

Although the fact he walked away with winnings that are pocket change to him but can fund a half-season to local drivers is hard to swallow. Still, Busch brought much-needed buzz to the weekend races.

Listening to sports talk radio, I heard the comment that if the NBA labor troubles wipe out next season, the NHL will be the big beneficiary. Maybe in Boston and in parts of New England, and certainly when you just consider pro sports. College basketball is still the king of winter after the last college football bowl is played.

In Randy Moss and Manny Ramirez, Patriots and Red Sox fans got the very best and the very worst of each. The thing is, many would accept the worst in order to get the best.

Go to Tim Stauffer’s Facebook page and note the first line in his personal information.

Born in Portland, Maine. He’s the San Diego Padres’ No. 4 starting pitcher and pitches well for a team that is offensively challenged. He moved to the Saratoga, N.Y., area while in grade school, so he’s been a forgotten Mainer. Not by me. He’s in the last year of his contract on my National League Rotisserie team in The Alibi Ike League. Also have Mark Rogers on my reserve and Ryan Flaherty on my farm.

According to the Kennebec Journal, Ryan Minoty threw 326 pitches in five days for Augusta in the state American Legion tournament. Ouch.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway