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The Callahan Report: Joe Gibbs Racing is the new 'super-team' in NASCAR

21 November 1999

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Bobby Labonte
HAMPTON, GA: Bobby Labonte has been a dominating force at the Atlanta Motor Speedway the past few seasons. It was only fitting that Labonte was the winner again as the checkered flags flew, signaling the conclusion of the final major auto race of the 1900s. The victory was Labonte's fifth of the season.

Labonte's weekend started out with frustration. The man who had dominated Atlanta time after time was forced to use a provisional starting spot to get into the race. His team worked throughout the weekend to get him into contention for victory.

"We did everything wrong this weekend, but the guys never gave up," Labonte said. "I didn't think we were that good. The last practice was not that good, but we made some changes this morning. To end the year with five wins is just unbelievable."

Labonte's future looks bright. With the win in Atlanta on Sunday, Labonte put out the notice that he will be a top contender for the NASCAR Winston Cup in the year 2000. He finished second in the championship chase to Dale Jarrett, who won the championship for the first time in his career. Jarrett knows it will be tough to repeat as champion with drivers like Labonte on the circuit.

"Bobby's going to win his championship," said Jarrett. "He was the man here today, but he's the man at a lot of places."

"There's no doubt that Bobby Labonte is one of the guys that we're gonna have to beat to win the championship (next year)," Jarrett continued. "He's a tremendous race driver. He uses his head well and they have a really good thing going there. I think, certainly, if you look right now and said who has the opportunity to win the Winston Cup championship next year, they would definitely be towards the top of the list, or at the top of the list really because they perform well at each and every race track that we have."

A big reason for Labonte's success this year is due to the expansion of the Joe Gibbs Racing Team. Ever since the former NFL football coach (Joe Gibbs) entered the sport, he ran a one-car team. Gibbs saw there was much to be gained by running a two-car team. Gibbs added rookie Tony Stewart to his powerful stable during the off-season.

Tony Stewart
Labonte and Stewart have battled each other hard on the race track throughout the 1999 racing season. Off the track, the two drivers have shared information, making them the most powerful two-car team in the sport. Labonte finished second in the season points, while Stewart finished fourth. It is the first time in history that a rookie has finished in NASCAR's top-five.

With the addition of Stewart, the Joe Gibbs Racing Team is the new "super-team" heading into the next century of racing. Sunday's win was the third win in-a-row for the team. Tony Stewart won the two previous races on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit.

While Bobby Labonte and his team continue to rise to stardom, another power team is on a downward spiral. The Hendrick Motorsports team was the dominant team in the past few seasons. The team has three cars with two of the top names in the sport... Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte. Both drivers had dismal season by their standards.

Jeff Gordon's nightmares continued Sunday. The "super-team" of the 90's rarely had engine troubles while sending Gordon to three championships in four seasons. Gordon suffered his sixth DNF (did not finish) of the year at Atlanta...with a blown engine.

Bobby's older brother, Terry, is a two time Winston Cup Champion. The older brother's luck was not good Sunday. Terry Labonte was involved in the worst crash of the day. He was unable to miss an incident which also involved Michael Waltrip, Kenny Wallace, and Rick Mast.

"I believe Michael had a left rear tire flat," Terry said. "It broke loose with him. He saved it and it went back the other way and shot straight up the track. I hit him a ton when he came back across the track."

The hit was severe. Michael Waltrip was unconscious for a short period of time while the track rescue team worked to remove him from the car. The emergency team peeled the roof back on Waltrip's car to remove him from the wreckage. Waltrip was airlifted to a local hospital for precautionary x-rays. He was later released from the hospital.

Waltrip and the rest of the NASCAR Winston Cup stars will have exactly what they deserve. They get to rest . . . for a little while, anyway. NASCAR, America's fastest growing sport, has a longer season than any professional sport in the United States. Daytona's Speedweeks will start in ten weeks. In between now and then, the teams and drivers will do testing, personal appearances, and other behind the scenes tasks. So much for relaxing.

See you at the beach.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.