Consistency was key to Labonte's championship
By Tim Packman
NEW YORK (Dec. 8, 2000) On the way to his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship, Bobby Labonte dominated the field of competitors with one key aspect, and that was with consistency.
The driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac didn't have the most victories or win the most money this year. But he was a top-5 finisher in more races than anyone, and was one of only two drivers to complete every event in 2000.
His final NASCAR 2000 season statistics will show two Bud Poles, four victories, 19 top-5s and 24 top-10s. The first-time champion pocketed a little over $4 million in earnings as well. Friday night, he will pick up his championship trophy from NASCAR and a $3 million check from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the series sponsor, at the circuit's annual banquet held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Labonte will be sitting at the head of the prestigious top-10 table as the man-of-the-hour.
He has been striving toward this goal for several years. Since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 1995, Labonte has finished 10th, 11th, seventh, sixth and second, respectively. He was an early-season favorite to take the crown away from the 1999 champion Dale Jarrett.
Even the defending champion knew Labonte was going to be a tough competitor to beat.
"There is no doubt that Bobby Labonte is one of the guys we are going to have to beat to win the championship," Jarrett said in February at Daytona.
It didn't come down to beating Labonte as much as catching him.
>From the third points race of the Winston Cup season, at Las Vegas, Labonte took the lead away from Jarrett. Labonte finished fifth in the CarsDirect.com 400 and left the desert four points ahead of Jarrett. The only time Labonte was out of the top spot was after April's DieHard 500 at Talladega.
Mark Martin finished sixth in the race and Labonte finished 21st, putting Martin in first-place, 24 points ahead of Labonte.
That was the last time Labonte would be out of the top spot for the rest of the season. From race No. 10 to the season finale in Atlanta, Labonte lead the rest of the way on his quest for the crown. Through those next 24 events he had three victories, 14 top-5s and 16 top-10 finishes.
Throughout the whole season his worst finish was a 26th-place effort at Richmond in May. He finished out of the top-15 only three times. And speaking of finishing races: to find the last DNF for this year's champion, you have to go back to the 1999 Bristol race in May.
Upon capturing of the circuit's top honors, Labonte becomes the 24th different championship driver. It also adds his name to the record books for two other categories. His brother, Terry Labonte, won the crown in 1984 and '86. They are now the first brother combination to be NWCS champions. Bobby Labonte is also now the only driver to capture both the NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch Series championships, earning his NBS honors in 1991.
He has been basking in the media and corporate attention that goes along with being a NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion all week. At Friday's banquet, he will bask some more as he receives accolades from his competitors on a job well done.
His entire crew will be there, all dressed up in tuxedos, to share in the moment with him. They all deserve what is coming to them; they worked hard for it. Labonte and the rest of the No.18 team are the best of the best for NASCAR 2000.
Now it remains to be seen if the team's consistency can carry over to 2001. -nascar.com-