NASCAR Winston Cup ITW DeVilbiss 400 Preview: #18, Bobby Labonte
14 August 1997
#18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix NASCAR Winston Cup Series ITW DeVilbiss 400 Advance Michigan Speedway LABONTE LOOKS FOR BREAKOUT WIN AT MICHIGAN BROOKLYN, MI - Two weeks ago Bobby Labonte nearly won the Brickyard 400 thanks to the fuel economy in his Interstate Batteries Pontiac. Races at Michigan Speedway also often boil down to fuel mileage, so Labonte may be in the catbird seat for Sunday's ITW Devilbiss 400. Labonte earned his best finish of the season with his second-place run in the Brickyard 400. The team relied on it's penchant for stretching fuel to the max to get Labonte up front. He went the final 115 miles on one tank of gas. Labonte and crew chief Jimmy Makar have carved a reputation as having one of the most fuel efficient cars on the circuit. Makar said it takes driver and crew chief working in unison to make the strategy work. "The driver plays a big part in gas mileage," Makar said. "He's got to be thinking fuel mileage the entire time he's out there. He has to be easy on the car. He has to ease a little off the throttle. If your calculations are right, it shouldn't be a big gamble, just a little gamble." Getting good mileage is always a top priority at Michigan. Caution flags seldom fly with regularity at the wide superspeedway, so many teams opt to stretch their fuel mileage with each pit stop in order to gain a cushion on the competition. "We're always trying to conserve gas," Labonte said. "When we get into that situation, we try to keep our Pontiac as free as possible to conserve gas and get good gas mileage. Michigan is so big and wide you don't have many accidents because there is more room for error. When there's fewer yellow flags it brings fuel mileage more into play. It's more typical to have a wreck the first 50 laps than the last 50 laps. If you get one in the first 50 laps, and it stays green and works out the right way, you can make more fuel mileage than everyone else. "I think it's more along the line of you're racing, racing, racing, and as it gets closer to the end, you start thinking, 'Hey, we've got a chance. We might be able to make it all the way on gas, if we go two more laps on each stop.' All of a sudden, you're able to go six laps further than everyone else. If they've got to only get gas and go, I'm still going to beat them. I think it's really in the back of your mind until later in the race. When you're not running particularly well that can work out to your advantage." Labonte seldom has a problem with running well at Michigan. Two of his four career wins have come at the track located in the Irish Hills of Michigan. In four August starts at Michigan, Labonte has never finished out of the top-10. In 1995, Labonte won both races at Michigan. Overall, in nine career starts at the superspeedway, Labonte has six top-10 finishes. In June's Miller 400, Labonte ran with the leaders through most of the race before getting shuffled back and settling for ninth. "We ran third, fourth, fifth, most of the time," Labonte said. "We led some, and I was feeling pretty good, but then we got tighter as the race progressed. We've got to make sure we don't do that again. We feel like we've figured out why it did that." Other than his shining record at Michigan, Labonte isn't sure why the track suits him so well. "I really used to not like Michigan, but now I do, and I really don't know why," Labonte said. "There's not any one thing there that makes me say, 'Hey, I really like this place.'" Another trip to victory lane at Michigan and maybe Labonte will finally know why he likes the track so much. By Camp & Associates, Inc.