The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

NASCAR Winston Cup Series NAPA 500 Preview: #18, Bobby Labonte

12 November 1997

 #18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Monte Carlo
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 NAPA 500 Advance
 Atlanta Motor Speedway


HAMPTON, GA - Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte will put the 
wraps on his best-ever NASCAR Winston Cup season in Sunday's NAPA 500 at the
reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway. 

He hopes to end the season the same way he concluded last year, with a victory
in the last race of the season. 

"That was the most memorable day I ever had in my career," Labonte said. "My
brother clinched his second Winston Cup championship, and I won my first race
of the season from the pole. That's hard to beat that." 

Labonte and the Joe Gibbs Racing team are always strong at Atlanta. Labonte 
finished fourth in the March race there, and should be among the favorites for
victory this time around. Buoying his confidence is the fact the team 
conducted the Goodyear tire test at Atlanta last month. The track was 
lengthened recently to 1.54 miles, giving it a tri-oval shape similar to
Charlotte Motor Speedway. Speeds have risen dramatically, and tire wear is a 
problem for some teams. 

Not Labonte's. 

"I'm glad we did the tire test down there," Labonte said. "It's a lot faster,
and figuring out the right chassis combinations to make your tires last 
longer is going to be a big key in the race. We think we found some answers." 

Test speeds reached in excess of 193 mph, some seven miles per hour faster
than Robby Gordon's track qualifying record set in March. 

Concluding the season on a speedy note seems to be only fitting for Labonte.
He will likely finish the year a career-best seventh in the point standings. 
Labonte is tied with Mark Martin for the most poles this season with three. 
Labonte has eight top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, coupled with $1,784,639 in
earnings -- all career highs. He's one of only four drivers to have only one 
DNF this season. 

"Looking at all that, I'd have to say it's been a good year," Labonte said.
"The only thing that could make it any better is a win, and we've got a good
chance to do that at Atlanta." 

Such success wasn't a given at the beginning of the season. During the 
offseason, the Joe Gibbs Racing team switched its automobile stable from
Chevrolet to Pontiac. But Labonte zipped out of the gate quickly, rising to 
as high as third in the point standings following April's race at Texas. Since
the first race at Dover in June, Labonte has had a stronghold on seventh. 
Three runner-up finishes since that race have steadied his position in the 
point standings. 

"There was a learning curve with the Pontiac, but it's turned out to be a
great race car," crew chief Jimmy Makar said. "With a year under our belts 
and some more testing during the offseason, we can make it even better for
next year. 

"But before we think about that, we have to tackle Atlanta. We didn't have any
problem with the tires down there like a lot of teams have been complaining
about. Maybe that will give us an advantage in the race. We've been on the 
verge of winning all season, so maybe we can end this year like we did last

By Camp & Associates, Inc.