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NASCAR WCUP: Three Winston Cup Races Left--It's Down to Labonte & Earnhardt

25 October 2000

By David Treffer
Contributing Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
The NASCAR Winston Cup Series takes a much needed week off. With three races left in the season (Phoenix, Miami and Atlanta) the championship fight has boiled down to two people-Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte and the venerable Goodwrench Chevrolet driver Dale Earnhardt.

Earnhardt missed a golden opportunity this past week-end at Rockingham to close the championship points gap. Labonte's 20th place finish opened the door for Earnhardt. Unfortunately, the seven-time Winston Cup champion was not able to seize the moment. During the late stages of the race Earnhardt fell from a top-five finish to 17th place. The points lost by Earnhardt in those closing laps could well be the final nail that Labonte needs to build his first Winston Cup championship.

The NASCAR scoring system rewards consistency. Over the completed 31 races of the 34 race season Labonte has been a model of consistency. His average finish position is seventh. More important than that stat is the number of DNF's (did not finish). The team has yet to suffer a DNF. The worst showing was a 26th place at the Pontiac Excitement 400 in the middle of the summer.

Should Labonte suffer disappointing finishes through the next three races the championship fight could go all the way to Atlanta. However, conventional wisdom would dictate that Labonte will probably clinch the championship at Homestead. The math is real simple. When Labonte has secured a 152 point lead with one race to go the championship is his. Points are handed out in the following manner. 175 points for finishing first. 34 points for finishing dead last (43rd). A driver can also achieve 5 bonus points for leading a lap and five more bonus points for leading the most laps. With a maximum total of 185 points available subtract 34 points and you arrive at a total of 151 points.

With Labonte holding a 201 point lead the chances of Earnhardt closing the gap becomes more remote with each race. However, before anyone counts Earnhardt out just remember the 1989 season when Rusty Wallace and Earnhardt battled down to the wire. Wallace won the championship but Earnhardt and his "Flying Aces" gave everything they had all the way down the line. The team will do the same this stretch run as well. Maybe they are just saving the best for last. We will know the answer very soon.

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