Long Pond II: Bobby Labonte - NASCAR spotlight

Bobby Labonte seeking to defend Pennsylvania 500 title, return to NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship form. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 24, 2002) - Bobby Labonte remembers his championship season quite well. The task facing him, for the ...

Bobby Labonte seeking to defend Pennsylvania 500 title, return to NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship form.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 24, 2002) - Bobby Labonte remembers his championship season quite well. The task facing him, for the remainder of this year, is to remind his competition of how he ruled the NASCAR Winston Cup Series in 2000.

The only way to do that, of course, is to win races. Therein lies the rub. Since being crowned king of America's No. 1 motorsports series two seasons ago, victories have been few - three to be exact.

"It is tough [to win]," Labonte said."In 2000 it was easy. This year we're working three times as hard as we did in 2000 and we're going nowhere.

"Nothing's falling into place."

Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac), whose only win so far this season was in April at Martinsville, managed merely two wins last year: at Atlanta and Pocono Raceway, site of Sunday's Pennsylvania 500. Compare those struggles to the recent, impressive past: Labonte had a total of 15 victories from 1995-2000.

Labonte, brother of two-time series champion Terry Labonte, comes to Pocono 20th in points. If he is to win again this season, Pocono looks like one of his best chances. He has finished eighth or better, including three victories, in six of the last eight races at the 2.5-mile track in Long Pond, Pa.

"We hit on a good combination back in 1998," Labonte said.

Included in that eight-race stretch was a sweep of 1999's two Pocono races. That's something that has occurred only four times since the track started hosting two NASCAR Winston Cup races per season 20 years ago.

"Last year's victory in Pocono was really the catalyst for the remainder of the year," said Labonte, who finished a highly respectable sixth in the 2001 points."We had come out of the box at the beginning of the season so bad last year and were really searching around for the answers and nothing seemed to be going right. Then we were able to go [to Pocono] and actually have a really good car and were up front most of the day.

"This year, we seem to actually be running better than we were last year, but have had absolutely no luck at all and in turn the season has really stunk. Maybe we can go back to Pocono and encounter a little more luck. We could sure use it right now."

It has become obvious that Labonte won't tie his older brother's series championship total this season. But that doesn't mean he considers the season a complete loss.

"We have to be realistic that we are not a title contender by any means," he said.

"We've just got to be a lot more consistent. We ran 13th last week at New Hampshire. That was a top-15 finish. We need to be running in the top 15 the rest of the season.... We just need a little luck on our side.

"But this [slump] is not because of a lack of effort."

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte