IMS Brickyard 400 Preview: Terry Labonte
29 July 1997
BRICKYARD FINISH HELPED LABONTE WIN '96 CHAMPIONSHIP For Immediate Release INDIANAPOLIS, July 28, 1997 -- Terry Labonte's stretch run for the 1996 NASCAR Winston Cup championship began with a third-place finish in the 1996 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Labonte's No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet Monte Carlo out of the Hendrick Motorsports stables had never finished in the top 10 at Indianapolis until last season. Labonte scored top five finishes in 11 of the final 13 races in '96, giving him a 37-point victory over Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon for the '96 title. Leaving the Brickyard last season with a 61-point lead over Dale Earnhardt, Labonte held the advantage for the next five races and then came back to take the lead for good after a third-place showing at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham with two races remaining. Still looking for his first victory in '97, Labonte regained the points lead again after his seventh-place finish at New Hampshire on July 13. He held a tenuous three-point advantage over Gordon after 17 of 32 events. "We were very consistent in the last half of the season in '96, and I think our finish in the Brickyard 400 went a long way toward helping us win the championship," Labonte said. "One of our goals for the season was to finish in the top 10 at the Brickyard. We were able to do that for the first time, but we were really sweating it." "I'm not sure we had a third-place car, but we worked on the car every pit stop and made some chassis adjustments and got better. We were close at the end. We weren't good enough to win, but we were close." Labonte has been close in '97 with three runner-up finishes. He finished second twice at Daytona and scored a runner-up finish in the inaugural California 500. Labonte leads the circuit with 13 top 10 finishes, and that consistency keeps the 40-year old Corpus Christi, Texas, native ahead of the pack. "We knew we had enough fuel to finish the race, and if the caution hadn't come out, it would probably have come down to us and another car on gas mileage," Labonte said. "That was our only chance to win. We gambled a little bit, stayed out and got good track position. We probably could have won a couple of races already this season is we had gambled on fuel mileage. And we could have run out and ended up looking pretty dumb sitting on the backstretch without fuel with just a couple of flaps left in the race." "We want to win a race, and we also want to win the championship again. We've got a lot of racing left this season, and I'm not sure if we can have a streak of top five finishes down the stretch like we did last year. We're going to try to win some races, and we'd really like to park our Kellogg's Chevy in victory lane at the Brickyard. It's one of the biggest races of the season, and it sure pays a lot of money. I've never won that much money at one time, I'd really like to see what it feels like." ..BY97-07..