Charlotte: Bobby Labonte preview

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., Tuesday, May 24, 2005 -- The following are Coca-Cola 600 and Carquest Auto Parts 300 pre-race notes and quotes for Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries/Madagascar Chevrolet (NEXTEL Cup) and No. 19 Hunt's ...

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., Tuesday, May 24, 2005 -- The following are Coca-Cola 600 and Carquest Auto Parts 300 pre-race notes and quotes for Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries/Madagascar Chevrolet (NEXTEL Cup) and No. 19 Hunt's Chevrolet (Busch Series) for Joe Gibbs Racing.


The 2005 Coca-Cola 600 marks the 10th anniversary of Labonte's first NEXTEL Cup win. On May 28, 1995, Labonte, driving the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet, defeated his brother, Terry, by 6.28 seconds en route to his first win. The 2005 Coke 600 is scheduled for May 29, 2005, 10 years and a day from Labonte's historic first win.

Labonte has two wins at Charlotte. In addition to the 1995 '600,' he won the fall race in 2000 on his way to the NEXTEL Cup Championship. In 37 NEXTEL Cup races at Charlotte, Labonte has finished in the top five 14 times (38 percent).

In 2004, Labonte started ninth and finished 13th in the Coca-Cola 600. He was in the top 10 on the final lap when he was involved in a late race accident with Kasey Kahne. He managed to finish the event. In the fall race Labonte started 34th and finished 17th, two laps down. Last week in the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge, he started 12th and finished ninth.

Labonte has five career poles at Charlotte, including the 1995 All-Star race and the pole for the 1996 fall event. In 1999 he swept the pole position for the All-Star race, Coke 600 and UAW-GM Quality 500.

Labonte has rebounded from early-season bad-luck with two top-10 finishes in the last four races. He finished sixth at Phoenix and eighth at Richmond. He has finished on the lead lap in three of the last four events and moved from 37th to 31st in points.

The primary car for the Coca-Cola 600 is chassis No. 99, which has been used only once, in March at Atlanta. Labonte started 19th and finished 37th. He was involved in a multi-car accident on Lap 1 and then suffered engine problems near the conclusion of the event.

The back up car is chassis No. 87, the same car Labonte drove to a 13th-place finish at California and finished 41st with at Las Vegas after an early accident. He also drove the car at Texas where he started 22nd and finished 38th after an early accident. In 2004, Labonte drove the car to second place in March at Darlington and won the Bud Pole with the car in April at Texas. He finished fifth with the car in May at California, eighth in June at Michigan, 13th in May at Charlotte, 15th in August at Indianapolis and 18th in July at Chicagoland. In October, Labonte crashed the car during practice at Charlotte and in the fall Atlanta race, he used the car to start 19th and finish 20th. He also drove the car at the fall race at Atlanta in 2003, where he started second and finished fifth.


The Carquest Auto Parts 300 is the first of eight Busch Series races the Labonte will compete in for Joe Gibbs Racing and ConAgra Foods. Hunt's will sponsor the No. 19 Chevrolet for the first event. In addition to Charlotte, Labonte will compete at: Chicago, July 9 (Banquet); Brooklyn, Mich., Aug. 21 (Eckrich), Bristol, Aug. 26 (Hunt's), Richmond, Sept. 9 (Banquet); Kansas, Oct. 10 (Banquet), Texas, Nov. 6 (Slim Jim), and Phoenix, Nov. 12 (Slim Jim).

Labonte has 164 starts in Busch Series competition and has scored nine wins, 48 top-fives and 89 top-10 finishes. He has finished in the top-10 in 54 percent of his Busch Series starts.

In 2004, Labonte made three Busch Series starts, his first in the series since the 1999 season. He finished ninth at Texas driving for Richard Childress Racing as part of the ESGR program and finished seventh and 14th, respectively, at California 2 and Charlotte 2 driving the Banquet Foods Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing.

The last time Labonte competed in a Busch Series event at Charlotte was May 24, 1997. He started 10th and finished 30th after engine problems sidelined his No. 44 Shell Chevrolet 11 laps from the finish. He has 15 Busch Series starts at Charlotte and has finished second three times, but never won.

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

The primary car for the Carquest Auto Parts 300 is chassis No. 1959, a new car that has not been raced before.

The back-up car is chassis No. 1958, the car Labonte drove in two Busch races in 2004 at California and Charlotte. He finished seventh at Charlotte and 14th at California.


BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries/Madagascar Chevrolet; No. 19 Hunt's Chevrolet 2000 NASCAR Champion, 1991 Busch Series Champion):

"We didn't run good last week in the All-Star race, but we learned some things. Steve (Addington, crew chief) and the guys are working hard. We've only run this car once before, and we didn't get to run with it that long because of an accident. We've got the movie Madagascar on the car this week, which is a cool deal. We've done a lot of these movie cars in the past and they are always a lot of fun to drive."

(About the 600-mile distance): "It's hard to win a race whether it's 400 or 600 miles. Six-hundred miles doesn't seem like that big of a deal when you're in the race car as much as watching it or talking about it. It's an interesting race, because you start it in the late afternoon or early evening, and it finishes at night. The track can change so much during that time that it can be a challenge getting a handle on the setup. It's a long race and the key is to make sure you make it to the end and put yourself in a position to win."

(About winning the 1995 race at Charlotte): "I remember being real close to winning races for Joe Gibbs prior to that race. We had finished second like two or three times. We ran good all night, Kenny Schrader blew up and Terry (Labonte) finished second, and we got our first race win. We won two more in about an eight-week span after that, so I think we needed something to break the ice and that did it for us."

(About competing in the Busch Series event): "I think the eight Busch races will be fun to drive in, but also help us on the Cup side. Anytime you can get more time driving, it's a good thing. I'm excited to have ConAgra Foods on board and, hopefully, we'll get off to a good start this week in Charlotte."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Labonte , Joe Nemechek , David Green , Kasey Kahne
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing