Labonte Puts Burton On Pole For IROC At Indy
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2001 - Points leader Bobby Labonte had a chance Aug. 2 to move himself from last to first in the starting field for the True Value International Race of Champions season finale Aug. 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Actually, two chances.
Instead, he handed the pole to fellow competitor Jeff Burton.
Over the years, the 12-car IROC starting field traditionally has been inverted according to the point standings after each race. Since Labonte, last year's NASCAR Winston Cup champion, holds a slim 44-43 lead after races at Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Michigan Speedway, he normally would start last in the fourth annual IROC race at Indy.
But to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the popular series for America's top drivers, promoter Jay Signore decided to conduct a random draw to select the pole starter at each race this year. Labonte was nominated for this race to pull out an envelope that matched a car color and driver to lead 11 identically prepared Pontiac Firebirds into the first turn of the 40-lap race at the world's most famous raceway.
Labonte had determined the driver-car color combinations earlier. He had put himself in a black car and needed to pull out the envelope with the black car to advance from the back to the front.
The TV cameras rolled, and Labonte reached out to the spread-out envelopes, extricated one and opened it. There was a green car inside. The only problem was that there was no green car in the lineup.
So Labonte got a second chance to "win" the pole. He blew it again.
This time the envelope he chose had the yellow car inside. So Burton, who is ninth in the standings with 22 points, got to move up to the pole from his scheduled inside second row starting position.
Labonte, winner of last year's Brickyard 400, will start 11th and last in the race. The late Dale Earnhardt, who clinched the IROC championship the last two years at Indy, was the 12th driver at season's start in February. His position has not been not filled since his death in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500.
Al Unser Jr. will drive for the second time in place of former Indy Racing Northern Light Series driver Scott Goodyear, who suffered a back injury in a crash during the Indianapolis 500 in May.
Car color and drivers were paired when Labonte placed a driver's name over a simulated garage door and pushed a button to open the door and allow a car to roll out.
"They asked me to do this, so I hope nobody gets mad at me for the way I pick," Labonte said.
Dale Jarrett was first and received the aqua car. Then it was Jeff Green and rose, Unser and white, Mark Dismore and lime and the black car for Labonte.
"I like that," he said.
Next it was Burton with the yellow and 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner Kenny Brack with the orange. Brack's car exited its garage so fast that it shot off the end of the table and crashed to the ground below.
Labonte leaned over the table and said to the car, "Kenny, are you OK down there?"
Finally, Ricky Rudd got the light blue car, 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier the gold car, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. the dark blue machine and Tony Stewart, Labonte's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, the silver car.
IROC AT INDY STARTING ORDER: Pos. Car Driver Car Color Series 1. 9 Jeff Burton Yellow NASCAR Winston Cup Series 2. 11 Mark Dismore Lime Indy Racing Northern Light Series 3. 10 Jeff Green Rose NASCAR Busch Series 4. 8 Buddy Lazier Gold Indy Racing Northern Light Series 5. 7 Al Unser Jr.* White Indy Racing Northern Light Series 6. 6 Dale Jarrett Aqua NASCAR Winston Cup Series 7. 5 Ricky Rudd Medium Blue NASCAR Winston Cup Series 8. 4 Tony Stewart Silver NASCAR Winston Cup Series 9. 3 Eddie Cheever Jr. Dark Blue Indy Racing Northern Light Series 10. 2 Kenny Brack Orange CART FedEx Championship Series 11. 1 Bobby Labonte Black NASCAR Winston Cup Series * -- replacing injured Scott Goodyear </pre> IROC AT INDY NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The True Value IROC at Indy starts at 2 p.m. (EST) Aug. 4.
Practice sessions start at noon and 3:15 p.m. Aug. 3.
On the air: The True Value IROC at Indy race will be televised at 7 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 10 on ESPN.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network will broadcast the True Value IROC at Indy race live at 2:45 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 4.
Tickets: Tickets for the IROC at Indy practices Aug. 3 and the race Aug. 4 are available. Call (317) 484-6700 for information.