Bobby Labonte limping into the Chase

Bobby Labonte limping into the Chase

This weekend's race at California Speedway has been billed as the "finish under the lights", but for NASCAR veteran Bobby Labonte, he's just looking to finish at the front. Bobby Labonte. Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom. After posting wins...

This weekend's race at California Speedway has been billed as the "finish under the lights", but for NASCAR veteran Bobby Labonte, he's just looking to finish at the front.

Bobby Labonte.
Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom.
After posting wins in each of the past nine years, Labonte is still looking for his first trip to victory lane in 2004. The former series champion has enjoyed some success in Fontana, including a pair of second place finishes in the past five years and a fifth place run at the two-mile circuit in May.

A strong run in the Pop Secret 500 this Sunday (7:00 p.m. ET on NBC) would help solidify Labonte's spot in the "Chase for the Championship". He has been slow in practice this weekend,though, and qualified only 37th for the race -- nearly one second off the pace set by pole-sitter Brian Vickers.

"We didn't give it that much effort," Labonte admitted after making his qualifying run on Friday. "We probably should have given it a little more effort but we didn't. So that's what we ended up with."

After crew chief Michael "Fatback" McSwain was released in July, the Interstate Batteries team struggled through a dismal month of August, failing to post a top-10 finish in five races. Labonte slid from sixth to ninth in the Nextel Cup standings and is just one point ahead of Ryan Newman for the 10th and final "playoff" spot with two races to go before the Chase starts in New Hampshire.

Bobby Labonte.
Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom.
"We've struggled recently and I can't put my finger on it," Labonte admitted earlier this week. "I know it's not anybody's fault. The guys are doing a great job. We need a good run this week in order to stay in the top-10."

Labonte likes the wide racing surface at California. He has three wins at the similar Michigan International Speedway and is hoping to extend his 10-season streak of recording at least one win that started in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

"It is frustrating, I'm not happy with my performance," admitted Labonte, who has 21 wins, trailing just Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett for the most in the past decade. "I want to get better and figure out why we can't go any faster than we're going. Hopefully we can figure that out."

It would be an understandable excuse, but Labonte refuses to put the blame of the team's misfortunes on the shoulders of interim crew chief Brandon Thomas.

"Everybody on our race team is doing a great job," says Labonte, who suffered his first DNF of the season at Pocono in August. "We've got great racecars, I just can't seem to find speed out of the racecar right now and that's one thing that hurting me. I just wish I could find it. I know we're going to test our tail off and we're going to do all sorts of things to figure it out. And, we're not going to stop and we're not going to quit at it."

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Series NASCAR-CUP