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The Callahan Report: Bobby Labonte Addicted to Winning in Atlanta

9 March 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel

HAMPTON, GA: Bobby Labonte has a habit. It is not one he wants to break any time soon. For the third time in four races at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bobby Labonte powered his way to victory lane. Labonte's Primestar 500 victory was the sixth of his young career.

As VCRs around the country began to switch on, Labonte was getting strapped into his Joe Gibbs owned race car for a cruise around his favorite track. NASCAR was forced to postpone the running of the Primestar 500 until today (Monday) due to heavy rains in the Atlanta area on Sunday.

Labonte didn't make much noise early in the race. He hung around the top ten all day long. When he finally decided to go to the front, there was no stopping the talented Texan. Fords dominated the race until Labonte made his move. Labonte took his Pontiac Grand Prix to the front late in the race. He kept the bright green Interstate Batteries car in the lead all the way to the checkered flag.

Labonte, who led the final 47 laps, said, "We were struggling a little there. We couldn't get it balanced up real good, but the guys kept working on it and it was great at the end."

Pontiac was in front at the start of the race as well. John Andretti started from the pole in the STP Pontiac. He dropped to 20th at the finish. He was two laps off the pace. Another Pontiac which started on the pole was piloted by Todd Bodine. The youngest of the Bodine racing brothers, Todd had failed to qualify for any NASCAR events this year. Bodine changed all that with style in Atlanta. Bodine qualified for the front row. He stayed up front for most of the race. Bodine finished 10th.

The Penske Kranefuss team continues to roll like clockwork. Jeremy Mayfield and Rusty Wallace, teammates for the first time this season, hung together all day and finished in third and fourth place. The high finish allowed Wallace to maintain the Winston Cup points lead, with Mayfield moving to second.

Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace

Team racing appears to be the wave of the future in NASCAR. The Robert Yates Racing team also had a great day in Atlanta. Rookie Kenny Irwin was the leader most of the afternoon in his Yates owned Texaco Havoline Ford. Irwin finished fifth. Irwin's teammate and 1997 Winston Cup runner-up, Dale Jarrett, finished second. The Yates team started 1998 with some poor performances. The team made some personnel changes in the past week. The changes worked. The team looked as strong as ever and should be in a position to return to victory lane in the near future.

Jarrett commented, "When he (Labonte) got by me, I got caught in a little traffic and there wasn't any chasing him down. He could maneuver through the traffic better than anybody. They played their cards just right."

The performance of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo was just as dismal in Atlanta as it was in the previous NASCAR event in Las Vegas. NASCAR made a rules change after the race in Las Vegas in an effort to slow the Ford Taurus teams. The change obviously didn't work. Ford products finished second through ninth. The highest finishing Chevrolet belonged to Terry Labonte who was twelfth. Dale Earnhardt was the next Chevrolet in thirteenth. Kevin Lepage, also in a Monte Carlo, was fourteenth. NASCAR will be performing wind tunnel testing this week on all models of cars racing in the Winston Cup series. NASCAR will make aerodynamic rules changes based on the results of those tests. The rules will be changed to ensure the racing series remains competitive for all manufacturers. Chevrolet teams are complaining that the finishing results are currently "top heavy" in favor of Ford.

NASCAR will have this weekend off. The next race on the Winston Cup Schedule is the track that has been dubbed "Too tough to tame"..... Darlington, in two weeks.

The Top Twenty:

1. 	Bobby Labonte
2.	Dale Jarrett
3.	Jeremy Mayfield
4.	Rusty Wallace
5.	Kenny Irwin
6.	Dick Trickle
7.	Kenny Wallace
8.	Jeff Burton
9.	Johnny Benson
10.	Todd Bodine
11.	Bill Elliott
12.	Terry Labonte
13.	Dale Earnhardt
14.	Kevin Lepage
15.	Ernie Irvan
16.	Steve Grissom
17.	Ken Schrader
18.	Michael Waltrip
19.	Jeff Gordon
20.	John Andretti
Editors Note: The images displayed in this article (plus many more) can be viewed in the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.