NASCAR Winston Cup Series UAW-GM Quality 500 Preview: #18, Bobby Labonte
1 October 1997
#18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix NASCAR Winston Cup Series UAW-GM Quality 500 Advance Charlotte Motor Speedway LABONTE LOOKING FOR SUNNY SKIES AT CHARLOTTE CONCORD, NC - Rain fell on what Bobby Labonte hoped would be a victory parade in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this season. Despite that disappointment, the driver of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac is taking a sunny disposition on Sunday's UAW-GM Quality 500 at the 1.5-mile superspeedway. Labonte was one of the front-runners in May's race at Charlotte, but a lengthy rain delay shortened the race and foiled the Joe Gibbs Racing team's strategy to go the distance on fuel in the closing laps to win the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit's longest race. Labonte finished sixth, but was hoping for a victory. "We needed a couple of breaks in order to win," Labonte said. "The rain kind of messed things up. They shortened the race on us, and that kind of messed us up a little bit. We needed a couple of breaks to finish better, and we didn't get the first one with the rain delay, and shortening the race hurt us, because I think we could have gone all the way. We were going to try a different strategy, and it just didn't work out." Charlotte and success have gone hand-in-hand for Joe Gibbs Racing. Labonte captured his first career victory there with the team when he won the 1995 Coca-Cola 600. The team's previous driver, Dale Jarrett, won the 1994 500-mile race there. Labonte says the team's solid performance at Charlotte all boils down to long-time crew chief Jimmy Makar. "I think Jimmy is one of the keys to our success at Charlotte," Labonte said. "I like Charlotte, which helps us out. He had a good base setup to begin with before I joined the team. We've hit on a pretty good combination there. Charlotte changes some, but the setup as far as a baseline remains relatively the same. There are always a few things you have to change to keep up with the times." Labonte has kept up with the pack throughout the season. He's seventh in the point standings, the highest ranking driver not involved with a multi-car team. Labonte has five top-five and 15 top-10 finishes after 27 starts. Labonte won the pole for last year's 500-mile race at Charlotte, beginning a string of pole success for the Corpus Christi, Texas, native. He won three of the final four poles last season, culminating with a win from the top starting spot in the year-ending race in Atlanta. Five races remain on the schedule this year, and Labonte feels his team is on top of its game. "I think our team is jelling," Labonte said. "We ran in the top-10 all day at Dover and finished fourth. Our enthusiasm for the rest of the season is no different than what it was last year at this time. I think this program just keeps getting stronger and stronger. Our Pontiacs keep getting better and better, and we've got a new Grand Prix for Charlotte. Hopefully when we get down there we'll start out on the right foot. Hopefully, we can finish the last five races like we did last year. I think the new car is a little bit better, and a little bit makes a big difference these days." The Interstate Batteries team elected not to test at Charlotte after conducting a two-day Goodyear Tire test at Atlanta last week. Labonte ran two cars in the test at Atlanta, including his Charlotte racer. "We tried a lot of different things and ran about 500 miles," Labonte said. "Atlanta is really totally different than Charlotte, but it did help in the fact that we were able to shake down a new car." A car Labonte and the Interstate Batteries team hopes will carry them to a victory at Charlotte. By Camp & Associates, Inc.