NASCAR Winston Cup Brickyard 400 Preview -- #18, Bobby Labonte
29 July 1997
#18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix NASCAR Winston Cup Series Brickyard 400 Advance Indianapolis Motor Speedway INDY TRADITION GROWS ON LABONTE INDIANAPOLIS, IN - Bobby Labonte still thinks the Daytona 500 is the biggest prize in NASCAR Winston Cup racing, but the driver of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac believes the Brickyard 400 has a strong niche of its own despite the brief, three-year history of the race. Labonte says the storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway's reputation, filled with such rich racing tradition, nearly makes Saturday's Brickyard 400 the equal of NASCAR's "Super Bowl" -- the Daytona 500. "The Daytona 500 is still the biggest race because of it's history," Labonte said. "I'd rank the Brickyard second, a close second. That's just because of all its tradition. It's the biggest race as far as prestige, other than Daytona. You can just tell by all the preparation all the teams put into it. Most of the teams test there, usually they build a new car to run up there, and just generally put more effort into it. "But what you've got to watch is not letting yourself get caught up in the hype. You can't lose sight of the big picture. The Brickyard 400 is what you want to make out of it. It's big, but when you really think about it, it's just another race track we go to. Once you get there, it still boils down to the same thing. You have to do all the same things in preparing for this race as any other if you want to be a contender to win." A win in the Brickyard 400 would further solidify the growing reputation of Joe Gibbs Racing as a team capable of consistently winning the circuitAs biggest races. Crew chief Jimmy Makar was with Gibbs when driver Dale Jarrett helped the team win the 1993 Daytona 500. Labonte would like to help Gibbs win another marquee event. The Corpus Christi, Texas, native is capable of doing so. Labonte is seventh in this yearAs Winston Cup point standings with four top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 18 starts. Three weeks ago, the Interstate Batteries team spent three days testing at the Brickyard in search of the winning combination. "Indy was a big struggle for us last year," Labonte said of his 24th-place finish. "We feel like we'll be better this time. At the same time, we've got a different car we've got to sort out, too." The Joe Gibbs Racing team will compete in this year's Brickyard 400 in a Pontiac for the first time after running the race the previous three years in a Chevrolet. It will mark the second time Labonte has raced at Indianapolis in a Pontiac. He finished 16th there in 1994 in a Pontiac with team owner Bill Davis. Labonte is confident he has a car that can get the job done. "I feel like the Pontiac has been really good this year," Labonte said. "I feel like we often get ignored with all the media attention placed on the Ford-Chevy rivalry, but I think Pontiac's time will come. We're close at times and we just need to capitalize on those times. The Pontiac seems to be at its best on the flat tracks, and Indy is a flat track, so that's a good sign." Indy track officials told teams during testing that rumble strips would likely be placed in the bottom of the corners to keep cars out of the grass. Labonte therefore elected to run a slightly higher groove in testing, because running over the rumble strips during the race will cause problems. "I really didn't run down there as much as those other guys did, so maybe it will hurt them more than me," Labonte said. "I didn't want to run there because I knew the rumble strips were going to be there. I thought later with my luck they won't put them there, but it won't be too hard to adjust. You're going so fast you might not feel them as much, but then again you're going so fast if you feel them it might be bad." Thinking ahead to all the possibilities is just one of the reasons that makes the Interstate Batteries team one to watch at the Brickyard. By Camp & Associates, Inc.