FT. WORTH, Texas (March 31, 1998) Last year, Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte conquered one of the biggest challenges on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit when he finished third in the inaugural 500-mile race at Texas...
FT. WORTH, Texas (March 31, 1998)
Last year, Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte conquered one of the biggest challenges on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit when he finished third in the inaugural 500-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. Now he faces the Texas-size task once again, and he's in dire need of some success.
Texas is one of the most difficult tracks to get around on the circuit and its challenges add up to a daunting venture for all drivers. Labonte, a native of Corpus Christi, Texas, needs a good run to get back into the top-10 of the point standings after getting involved in a wreck while running sixth late in last Sunday's race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
"Texas was a pretty big challenge last year," Labonte said. "We worked on the car during pit stops and just tried to make it as fast as we could and as comfortable as we could. With the corners the way they were, you thought you could go fast, but then when you got down in there it was a challenge."
It's understandable for Labonte to think the worst considering his recent on-track fortunes. He has run in the top-10 late in each of the last two races, only to lose a cylinder at Darlington and crash at Bristol. The misfortune has dropped him from sixth to 14th in the point standings after a victory in the PRIMESTAR 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Last year's finish at Texas vaulted Labonte to a career-high third in the point standings. He finished the season seventh. Now the Joe Gibbs Racing team is under the gun to get itself back into the top-10 in points.
"We're not pleased with how we've done in points lately," crew chief Jimmy Makar said. "Darlington and Bristol really hurt us. We've probably given up a good 150 points right now in just a few races. We can't continue to do that. If we do, we're going to dig ourselves a hole we're not going to be able to dig out of. It's still early, and we've still got the capability of running up front in the top-five most every place we go. Other people are going to make mistakes. It's just that our mistakes and bad finishes are coming way too early to be comfortable with."
There are indications Labonte could be in for a good run. He ran well at Texas last year, and his calculating driving style often serves him well on tricky layouts like Texas Motor Speedway.
"Texas certainly fits that mold, and Atlanta is the same way now," Labonte said. "Darlington is like that. You just try and do the best you can. That's the way I was brought up. My dad is probably responsible for a lot of my driving style because he made me work on my own cars and fix my own stuff. That made you aware of how much work was involved when you tore your stuff up. That's half the battle, staying out of trouble."
Labonte's history on tough tracks has Makar feeling confident. For him, it's a matter of putting a capable car in Labonte's hands.
"If we can give him a car that's genuinely decent, he can settle into a pace and he can feed us information on the car where we can work on it during the course of the race, and most of the time we can get the car better for him," Makar said. "We've been real fortunate we've been able to do that. Atlanta was a good example. We didn't really have a real good car at the start, but we kept working on it and he kept feeding us information where we were able to get it right at the end. It's going to be that kind of deal at Texas."
Source: NASCAR Online