NASCAR Winston Cup Series Dura-Lube 500 Preview: #18, Bobby Labonte
29 October 1997
#18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix NASCAR Winston Cup Series Dura-Lube 500 Presented by Kmart Advance Phoenix International Raceway LABONTE LOOKS TO CONTINUE ROLL AT PHOENIX PHOENIX, AZ - Bobby Labonte is on another late-season roll in the Interstate Batteries Pontiac, and that has the man with the quiet demeanor thinking about making some big noise in Sunday's Dura-Lube 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Labonte is the defending pole-winner for the next-to-last race on the NASCAR Winston Cup schedule. He led 56 of the race's 312 laps before settling for ninth-place. But considering the hot streak Labonte is on, he intends to do much better in this year's race. In his last five starts, Labonte has three top-five finishes, including two second-place runs. That has the Corpus Christi, Texas, native thinking about notching his fifth career victory -- and first in 1997. The late season spurt is similar to last year's momentum swing when Labonte won three of the final four poles of the season and three top-10 finishes, including a year-ending win at Atlanta. Labonte says a strong conclusion to the season will pay far-reaching dividends. "We want to finish the year on a high note, you always do," Labonte said. "Over the winter you want to think about how you finished good and qualified good. That always makes you a whole lot more confident heading into next season. We've got a lot of stuff to look forward to. We don't have to go through a body change like we did from going to a Chevrolet to a Pontiac last off-season. That will make it a little easier on the guys in the shop. If we can finish the year off like we did last year, it should give us a good winter to rest on and get ready for next year." Labonte ranks seventh in the point standings with eight top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. He still has a shot at climbing to sixth in the point standings, 114 points behind Dale Earnhardt. Labonte is the highest-ranking driver in the standings not affiliated with a multi-car team. "I think our Pontiac has really been doing well lately because we built a new car and I really like it," Labonte said. "It's one of those deals where it handles good and we're going to keep running it until we can't run it any longer." That new Pontiac finished second at Charlotte, and 11th in the ACDelco 400 at North Carolina Motor Speedway on Monday. Labonte is pleased with the performance of the Joe Gibbs Racing team this season, but he knows the biggest measuring stick is wins and losses. That's why it's so important for Labonte to reach victory lane by season's end. "Not only does winning pay a lot more, it just means a lot," Labonte said. "When you finish second three times, it's like nobody quite remembers that. It's frustrating that we haven't won a race yet this year. But it's so competitive it's very understandable. We're inching up on it, we're gaining on it. We're just going to have to wait for that day. I know we have the race team for it. It's one of those deals where we have to get all the combinations right. "We're knocking on the door." And at Phoenix, it might finally open up. By Camp & Associates, Inc.