NASCAR Winston Cup Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 Preview: #18, B. Labonte
4 September 1997
#18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix NASCAR Winston Cup Series Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 Richmond International Raceway LABONTE LOOKS TO STAY HOT AT RICHMOND RICHMOND, VA - Bobby Labonte is a man of quiet demeanor, but the driver of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac is making plenty of noise in NASCAR Winston Cup racing these days. Labonte has posted four top-10 finishes in his last five starts, and is closing in on sixth-place in the point standings. He hopes to continue his hot streak with a long overdue win in Saturday night's Richmond 400 at Richmond International Raceway. "I heard somebody say the other day we were always hot and cold, and I don't know where they got 'hot and cold' at," Labonte said. "Seventh in points and closing in on sixth isn't so bad. I think I'm having the best season I've ever had. We haven't won three races like we did in 1995, but we haven't fallen out of but one race." After 23 starts, the Joe Gibbs Racing team has five top-five and 14 top-10 finishes. At this point last season, Labonte had 10 top-10 finishes. In addition, Labonte is only 26 points behind Dale Earnhardt in the driver standings. Bolstering Labonte's confidence for Saturday's race is the fact the team conducted a three-day test at Richmond's 0.750-mile short track last week. While less than pleased with their mock qualifying runs, crew chief Jimmy Makar was encouraged by consistent lap times during long runs. "Our long runs were very competitive," Makar said. "We were able to judge off a lot of other drivers, among them Bobby Hamilton, who always has a good car up there. Kyle Petty, Michael Waltrip, and Dick Trickle were also testing there. On the long runs our Pontiac seemed like it stayed real good. I feel real good about that. It isn't like we just made one long run. We made three or four. I feel really good about the race setup-wise." Labonte is coming off a seventh-place run in Sunday's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, where he also won his second pole position of the season. In March's Pontiac Excitement 400, Labonte finished eighth. He also won his first career pole as a rookie for this race in 1993. Despite those accomplishments, Richmond isn't one of Labonte's favorite tracks. "But we had a good test there," Labonte said. "We were right where we wanted to be. When we go back we've got to make sure we're going to be the same way. Richmond isn't one of my better tracks, so I was real happy with our performance in our test there. I've never been as strong as you want to be on the long runs there. I'm hoping we learned a lot and can improve from there. I hope we'll have a setup for the race that will be competitive." Richmond recently put down sealer on its asphalt surface. Makar said it shouldn't cause any problems, although he did admit once it wore off during testing speeds decreased. "Bobby didn't complain about it, and neither did any of the other drivers there," Makar said. "It was very tacky, and we had good grip. Obviously, it helped on long runs. Nobody fell off quite as bad like we did in the spring race when we didn't have any sealer. What happens when the sealer goes away, I don't know. It is going to wear off, and when that happens, it's anybody's guess. They did a good job with it. It's not slick, and it's not treacherous like the sealers of old. I don't feel like that will be an issue for anybody." The issue at hand for Joe Gibbs Racing is winning its first race of the season. "The last time we were up there we had a good run," Labonte said. "Still, we need to be better, so we went up there and tested. Now I think we have a chance to be even better." By Camp & Associates, Inc.