BUSCH: Fontana II: Bobby Labonte preview

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2004 -- The following are California pre-race notes and quotes for Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 18 Wellbutrin XL Chevrolet (NEXTEL CUP) and No. 18 Banquet Chevrolet (Busch Series) for Joe Gibbs ...

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2004 -- The following are California pre-race notes and quotes for Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 18 Wellbutrin XL Chevrolet (NEXTEL CUP) and No. 18 Banquet Chevrolet (Busch Series) for Joe Gibbs Racing.


* Labonte will attempt to start his ninth NEXTEL Cup race at California Speedway. He finished second at Fontana in 2000 and 2003, third in 1999 and fifth in the 2004 spring race. He won the Bud Pole for the 2001 event at California.

* In the May 2004 event at California Speedway, Labonte started 27th and finished fifth. Labonte was in second place on the final lap when he ran out of fuel. He coasted to the finish line in fifth-place.

* Labonte has five top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 2004.

* After finishing 16th at Bristol, Labonte remained ninth in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings for the third consecutive week. Kevin Harvick is only four points ahead of Labonte, while Ryan Newman is just one point behind Labonte.

* Labonte has had success at the two tracks remaining on the schedule before the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup" begins Sept. 19 at New Hampshire.

* California -- four top-five finishes in nine races.

* Richmond -- average finish of 3.6 in last three races at RIR

* The primary car for the Pop Secret 500 is chassis No. 71, the car Labonte drove at both Bristol and Dover races in 2003. He finished third in the car at the spring events at each track. Labonte also used the car in 2004 at Rockingham, Bristol (spring) and Michigan.

* The back-up car will be No. 87, the car Labonte drove to second place with March 21 at Darlington and the car he won the Bud Pole with April 2 at Texas. He finished fifth with the car May 2 at California, eighth June 20 at Michigan International Speedway, 13th May 30 at Charlotte, 15th Aug. 8 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and 18th July 11 at Chicagoland Speedway. Labonte also used the car at the fall race at Atlanta in 2003, where he started second and finished fifth.


* Labonte will attempt to start his second NASCAR Busch Series event of the season. He started ninth and finished 11th driving the No. 29 ESGR Army Nat'l Guard-Reserve Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in the O'Reilly 300 April 3 at Texas Motor Speedway.

* Labonte was entered in the Michigan Busch race in the No. 19 Banquet Chevrolet, but qualifying was canceled due to rain. Labonte had a champion's provisional from his 1991 Busch Series championship, but because he did not attempt to qualify for a Busch race in 2003, per NASCAR rules, he was not eligible to use the champion's provisional.

* Labonte will compete in only his second Busch Series event at California Speedway. In 1997, he started second and finished 30th, nine laps down in the No. 44 Shell Chevrolet.

* Labonte won the 1991 Busch Series championship on the strength of two wins and 21 top-five finishes. He lost the 1992 title by just three points to Joe Nemechek. The three-point margin is the closest points finish in the history of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, Busch Series or Craftsman Truck Series competition.

* Labonte made his Busch Series debut in 1982 at Martinsville Speedway. He finished 30th and won $220. He then competed in the two races in 1985, six in 1988 and seven in 1989 before competing full-time for the first time in 1990.

* On April 13, 1991, Labonte scored his first career Busch Series win in the Budweiser 250 at Bristol International Speedway, driving the No. 44 Penrose Firecracker Oldsmobile. Labonte's good friend, David Green, finished second, while the late Dale Earnhardt finished third.

* Labonte has 162 starts in Busch Series competition and has scored nine wins, 48 top-fives and 88 top-10 finishes. He has finished in the top-10 in 54 percent of his Busch Series starts.

* Labonte's last Busch Series victory came in the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 March 21, 1998 at Darlington Raceway in the No. 44 Shell Pontiac.

* Since the 1998 season, when he drove five Busch Series races, Labonte has only competed in two Busch events, Las Vegas in 1999 and Texas in 2004. He broke his shoulder blade in practice for the March 1999 Darlington Busch Series event, but did not miss a NEXTEL Cup Series start. However, he did not compete in that Busch Series race, nor any other until 2004.

* The primary car for the Target House 300 will be JGR Busch chassis No. 1858, which is a new car that was tested by Labonte at Michigan International Speedway in July. It is the same car Labonte was going to drive in the Aug. 21 Busch Race at MIS.

* The back up car is JGR Busch chassis No. 2045, which Mike Bliss drove at Las Vegas, Charlotte and Texas. He started on the pole and finished 12th with the car at Las Vegas.


BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Wellbutrin XL Chevrolet and No. 18 Banquet Chevrolet; 2000 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Champion, 1991 Busch Series Champion): "It will be a little bit strange to be spending Labor Day weekend in California instead of Darlington. California is similar to Michigan, although the banking is different. There are a few other differences too. We ran good there in the spring and just ran out of gas on the final lap." (About competing in the Busch Series race): "We weren't going to do this race originally, but when we didn't qualify at Michigan because of the rain, we decided to run the Banquet car at California instead. It's the same two cars, the only things that different is the car number is 18 and not 19. Hopefully, this time, we'll get a change to qualify and see what we can do in the race." (About the point standings in the NEXTEL Cup): "We need a good run this week in order to stay in the top-10. We've struggled recently and I can't put my finger on it. I know it's not anybody's fault. The guys are doing a great job. Brandon (Thomas, interim crew chief) is doing a great job. Chris (Gayle), our engineer, is doing a great job. Everybody on our race team is doing a great job. 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. But, it is frustrating, whether it's the 'Chase for the NEXTEL Cup' with two races to go or 10 races into the deal and were finishing like this, we're not going to be happy. So, I'm not happy with my performance, and 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."


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About this article
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Labonte , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Ryan Newman , David Green
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing