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NASCAR WCUP: Bobby Labonte Closing In On First Winston Cup Championship

6 August 2000

By David Treffer
Contributing Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel

Twenty races down, fourteen to go. For Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte the remaining fourteen races will be a test of not only his driving skill but that of his Joe Gibbs' Interstate Battery Racing Team. Labonte's victory at the Brickyard 400 solidified his standing as one of the premier drivers among the Winston Cup elite.

Labonte carries an 87 point lead over current Winston Cup Champion Dale Jarrett into next week's road race at Watkins Glen. Not widely known as a great road racer, Labonte has quietly honed his road racing skill. His third place qualifying and eventual fourth place finish, during this year's race at Sears Point, points to Labonte raising his all-around driving ability.

Winston Cup Championships are awarded for being consistent. The point system is purposely designed to try and maintain suspense until the last lap of the last race. Labonte, through the first twenty races of the 2000 seasona, can point to two wins, 10 top-five finishes and 14 top-ten finishes. Amazingly he has not suffered a "DNF" (did not finish) this season. Only three other driver's among the top ten in the current points standings can make the same statement. Labonte's worst finish so far this year was a 26th place finish at Richmond. In the Winston Cup scoring system the winning driver can score a maximum of 185 points, (175 for winning the race, five bonus points for leading a lap and another five points for leading the most laps) inversely the last place driver scores 34 points. The one area that Labonte is not leading is in bonus points. Dale Jarrett currently leads that part of the scoring system with 70 bonus points. Labonte has scored 60 bonus points this season.. Accumulating bonus points can become part of a driver's strategy as the season winds down.

Labonte's 87 point lead over Jarrett is nice but certainly no guarantee of a championship. That lead can vanish in the blink of an eye. For guidance on winning a championship all Labonte needs to do is look over his shoulder at last year's champion-Dale Jarrett. In 1999, Jarrett scored 24 top-five finishes and 29 top-ten finishes (a record for the modern era of Winston Cup racing) with a remarkable eight straight at the end of the season. Jarrett finished outside of the top twenty only twice during the 34 races. His four wins to Labonte's five re-affirmed the "consistency wins" axiom of winning Winston Cup Championships.

So what does Labonte and Joe Gibbs Racing need to do? For starters don't look over your shoulder. Stay with, as the old country saying goes, "What brung ya." Last but not least a really good rabbit's foot....just in case.

Text provided by David Treffer

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