The Callahan Report: An All Labonte Front Row at Daytona

7 February 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel

Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte
DAYTONA BEACH: Terry Labonte had set the mark in practice all week. Most teams had already conceded the pole position for the 40th running of the Daytona 500 to the 1996 Winston Cup Champion. One driver who knew he had a chance at the prestigious Daytona pole position was also named Labonte. Bobby Labonte took to the track and grabbed the pole away from his older brother, beating him by .070 seconds. For the first time in history, siblings will share the front row in "The Great American Race."

The elder Labonte commented on his little brother's run, saying, "I'm real happy for Bobby. We never really have been rivals in anything. We've always gotten along pretty well and I don't think we've ever gone more than a day or two without talking."

The oldest brother knew he had done everything he could to take the pole. If anyone beat him, they earned it. Terry said, "That's all we had. I knew Bobby had something for us. I figured it would be close. We really qualified at the same speed we practiced and I knew if we did get beat, we did the best we could."

As for the younger brother, he admitted that he received a little boost from mother nature. "I honestly thought we might wind up in the top 10, with an outside chance of the outside spot." He continued, "It was just a little gust of wind or something that made the difference."

Bobby Labonte finished the 1997 season with a win in Atlanta. The driver of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac gave credit to his team, saying, "The guys on this team put a big effort into it, more than they ever have. It's paying off. This place here, the driver has some input into it, but not like other places."

Terry Labonte set his mark early in the day. He was the second of 55 drivers who participated in the qualifying draw to take the track during the first round. The driver of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevy Monte Carlo posted a speed of 192.127 mph. Bobby Labonte was the 16th driver out on the track. He posted a speed of 192.415 in his Joe Gibbs Pontiac.

The new Ford Taurus which replaced the Thunderbird in 1998 appeared to be quick early in the week. Some of those earlier speeds were misleading. The quickest Ford Taurus in qualifying belonged to Rusty Wallace. The Miller Lite Ford was eighth fastest for the day with a speed of 190.444 mph. The day was ruled by Chevy Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix.

Rusty Wallace, Fastest Ford Taurus
Rusty Wallace, Fastest Ford Taurus

Wallace talked about the performance of his Ford Taurus and what to expect for the race. He said, "I feel good to have the best Taurus in the field. I'd like to be a little quicker, but that's all we could do. We'll keep working on it."

"Racing's what it's all about. Qualifying doesn't mean a whole lot. If it will draft good and handle good for 500 miles, that's the deal." He continued, "We should know more about these cars after tomorrow. We need to find out how these cars will be in traffic to know how they're going to race in the 500."

Kenny Schrader was third fastest for the day with a speed of 191.787 mph. He was followed by Dale Earnhardt at 191.006 mph. Both were driving Chevy Monte Carlos.

Next was the Pontiac of John Andretti. He posted a mark of 190.828 mph. Mike Skinner, the pole sitter for last year's Daytona 500, was next at 190.674 mph. Derrike Cope followed with a speed of 190.617 mph in another Pontiac. Ward Burton (Pontiac) and Lake Speed (Ford) were also in the top ten. The defending Daytona and Winston Cup Champion, Jeff Gordon, was eleventh fastest at 189.930 mph in his brightly colored Dupont Chevy.

Jeff Gordon, Defending Champion
Jeff Gordon, Defending Champion

Only the two fastest drivers are awarded starting spots. Qualifying races will be held on Thursday to determine spots 3 through 30. The fastest cars from the three days of time trials will fill spots 31 through 36. The remaining spots will be filled with provisional starters.

Editors Note: The images displayed in this article (plus many more) can be viewed in the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.

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