NASCAR Winston Cup Pennsylvania 500 Preview -- #18, Bobby Labonte
16 July 1997
#18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix NASCAR Winston Cup Series Pennsylvania 500 Advance Pocono Raceway LABONTE LOOKS TO AVOID OLD POCONO FORTUNES IN NEW PONTIAC LONG POND, PA - Some refer to the unique, three-turn Pocono International Raceway as NASCAR's version of the "Bermuda Triangle," and Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte can identify with the ominous comparison. Pocono has dealt nothing but misfortune for Labonte, who hasn't cracked the top-10 in a NASCAR Winston Cup race there in nine career starts. He had high hopes of ending his hex there in last month's Pocono 500 after coming off a pole-winning run at Dover Downs International Speedway a week before. But Labonte struggled from the start, crashed coming off turn one midway through the race and limped home 31st. Labonte, enters Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono determined to end his jinx there. He enters the race seventh in the point standings, but Ricky Rudd is closing in on his territory. Rudd lies only 37 points behind Labonte. Labonte hopes to be more competitive this time around in a new Pontiac the Joe Gibbs Racing team has prepared for the 2.5-mile superspeedway. "We're going to bring another Grand Prix this time around," Labonte said. "Pocono really isn't that tough a track, we just have had absolutely no luck there. I've never had good luck there, and the team hasn't had a lot of good fortune there, either. Pocono is tough on equipment and tough on motors, it's tough on everything. We've really got to get our stuff together there. "After all, it's only as tough as you make it." Labonte had an uncharacteristic 27th-place finish at New Hampshire last Sunday after posting three consecutive top-10 finishes. Labonte said the team has tried some aerodynamic experiments on their Pontiacs over the last month in the ongoing search for a competitive advantage. Most teams would be envious of Labonte's placement in the point standings, complete with four top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 17 starts. Labonte and his Jimmy Makar-led crew don't see it that way. "If we don't cut our throats from wanting to do better we'll be OK," Labonte said, hinting of the team's lofty expectations with a bit of comical overstatement. "We're actually a little frustrated with finishing in the top-10. I guess you should be happy with a top-10, and we're happy with them, but we're not satisfied. We want to get better, and we feel like we should be better. We've just got to keep working on it." Joe Gibbs Racing has feverishly worked on fine-tuning their stable of Pontiacs after switching from Chevrolet during the offseason, continually experimenting to get the car even better. Pontiac teams have yet to win a race this season, but Labonte believes the Grand Prix is capable of cracking victory lane at any time. Labonte points to the fact that Pontiac drivers have posted 28 top-10 finishes this season, up from only nine at the same point last year. The Interstate Batteries team has been most instrumental in those improved numbers, scoring more than double the number of top-10 finishes of any other Pontiac team. "We're working on the car, and we're still making adjustments," Labonte said. "We think the Grand Prix is a great race car, and we hope we're bringing a lot to the table for Pontiac. We're working on it as hard as we can and we're still making progress, but we're still learning as we go. We're working on some stuff, and we haven't won a race yet, but last year at this time we hadn't won a race in a Chevrolet, either. "There's not a problem with the Pontiac body. We're still trying to get the program together for the combination as a whole. It's not just one little thing. We've got to get it all together. That takes time. When you make a change you don't make all the right decisions at once. It's hard to win a race, and you get a little bit behind. I think as a whole we're getting better, it's just going to take a little more time. I'm sure we'll get it in the long run." And Labonte is long overdue for a strong run at Pocono. By Camp & Associates, Inc.