DARLINGTON, S.C. (March 16, 1998) Joe Weatherly was the last Pontiac driver to win at Darlington Raceway, but Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte is still considered one of the pre-race favorites for Sunday's TranSouth ...
DARLINGTON, S.C. (March 16, 1998) Joe Weatherly was the last Pontiac driver to win at Darlington Raceway, but Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte is still considered one of the pre-race favorites for Sunday's TranSouth Financial 400.
Labonte is riding such a wave of momentum heading into the race that he would have to be considered a favorite regardless of the make of car he drives. All the statistics indicate he's more than capable of snapping Pontiac's 69-race winless streak at the track "Too Tough to Tame."
Consider: Labonte is coming off a victory in the Primestar 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The win vaulted him from 13th to sixth in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings, just 140 points behind leader Rusty Wallace.
And while Labonte has never won at Darlington, it's one of his best tracks. Last year, Labonte finished fifth in the TranSouth Financial 400, and followed that up with a seventh-place run from the pole in the Southern 500.
The numbers add up to Labonte possessing one stout Pontiac Grand Prix Sunday.
"I guess anything can happen," Labonte said with a typical shrug. "We've always run good at Darlington. You've just got to be right at the right time. Jeff Gordon didn't have the best car there last year in the Southern 500, but he was there at the right time and able to win. One more lap and Jeff Burton probably would have won. Hopefully, we'll just take the same Pontiac to Darlington, make it run good and be in contention for another win. It could be a good year for Pontiac."
Labonte and the Joe Gibbs Racing team are elated to already have a win after just four races. The previous two seasons, Labonte didn't score a victory until the season-ending race at Atlanta. He came tantalizingly close a number of times last season before Atlanta, including three runner-up finishes. It looked like the trend might continue when Labonte finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500.
But after a lightning-quick pit final pit stop in the closing laps at Atlanta, Labonte gained the necessary track position. He passed leader Dale Jarrett with a nifty outside move in traffic, and led the final 47 laps to pull the Interstate Batteries Pontiac into victory lane ahead of accustomed schedule.
Now the early season success has the team thinking about more checkered flags.
"We proved we could do it early instead of waiting until the end of the season," crew chief Jimmy Makar said. "Now we can go into each race with a little bit more peace of mind and have a little bit more fun. Maybe we can have a few more wins before the year's out.
Labonte says maintaining the momentum from the victory is crucial to the team's larger goal of winning the NASCAR Winston Cup championship. The win gives to team several key ingredients necessary in forming a championship recipe.
"I think that it's going to bring some enthusiasm, confidence and excitement into the race team for the upcoming weeks," Labonte said of his Atlanta triumph. "Last year we were close a couple of times and it got down to nail-biting time. There's not as much pressure on you to win. You don't want to sit back and not worry about winning anymore. We want to win as much as we can. But there's a little less pressure now that we've won a race."
And regardless of history, Labonte is capable of being a frontrunner at Darlington.
Source: NASCAR Online