Labonte Hopes to Improve Short-Track Performances

Labonte hopes to improve short-track performances CHARLOTTE, N.C. (March 25, 1998) In order to go from NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship pretender to contender, the Interstate Batteries Racing team spent much of the ...

Labonte hopes to improve short-track performances CHARLOTTE, N.C. (March 25, 1998)

In order to go from NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship pretender to contender, the Interstate Batteries Racing team spent much of the offseason trying to improve its short track program.

Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte hopes to see some positive results from all that off-season work focus in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Labonte finished a career-best seventh in the point standings last season, but could have finished even higher if the team's short track and flat track performance had been better. In 11 races on those layouts, Labonte's average finish was 19th. He did score four top-10 finishes (including a second in the Brickyard 400), but was 27th or worse five times.

Labonte has 10 career starts at Bristol with three top-10 finishes, two coming with Joe Gibbs Racing. Last year, Labonte was 34th in the Food City 500 after getting swept into a crash while running in the top-10. He returned in August to finish eighth. Finding finishing consistency at the short and flat tracks is mandatory this season for the Jimmy Makar-led team.

"I think you'll see improvement on those tracks for us this season," Labonte said. "We worked hard during the off-season trying to get the car lighter and trying different setups that we didn't get to last year. I have complete confidence in Jimmy Makar and this team's ability to get us running on these tracks like we do everywhere else." Makar, one of the most intense crew chiefs in the sport, is determined to see improvement on the circuit's short and flat tracks this season. He hopes Bristol is the start.

"Our short track program seems to be our weak link as far as performance is concerned," Makar said. "The past few years we seemed to not ring it up to par where we were competitive enough to win races. So that's been an ongoing goal, to bring the level of performance on the short tracks up."

But in essence, Makar wants to see improvement in every facet of the race team this year in order to make it a championship contender.

"We want to perform at least a little bit better in every category, wins, finishes, poles, starting positions," Makar said. "We want to be competitively better than we were last year. It's easy to say I want to win five races and six poles and finish in the top-five in points, but we can't predict that. Our goal is to improve in every aspect of our team over last year."

After his victory at Atlanta two races ago, Labonte rose to sixth in the point standings. But a broken valve late in last Sunday's TranSouth 400 at Darlington relegated Labonte to a 23rd-place finish. He dropped to ninth in the point standings. That makes a strong run at Bristol even more a must to maintain championship hopes.

"You don't want to have any slumps, don't want to have any races where you don't do well," Labonte said. "If you don't do well, you want to rebound. It's important that we rebound."

Just five races into the 1998 season, Bristol could prove to be the site of a pivotal race for the Interstate Batteries Racing team's championship hopes. Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing