News 97-11-17

NASCARFans E-Mail List Congrats to the 1997 WC champion ...

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Congrats to the 1997 WC champion #24 team, Hendrick Motorsports (3 in a row), and to Joe Gibbs Racing and Bobby Labonte for the victory at Atlanta. ===== Here's the full story from NASCAR Online:

When it was over, Bobby Labonte had whipped the field, Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin had given all they could and Jeff Gordon found enough cushion to win the 1997 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship.

Labonte, driver of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac, made mincemeat of his rivals en route to his first win on the season in the NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. For the younger brother of 1996 series champion Terry Labonte, it was his first victory since he won the season finale last year. He became the first driver to win the race in consecutive years since Richard Petty in 1970-71.

Meanwhile, Gordon took a backup DuPont Refinishes Chevrolet from a 37th starting position and nursed his way to a 16th-place finish, good enough to earn him his second NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in three years and the third straight for Hendrick Motorsports.

Coming into the race, Gordon led Jarrett by 77 points and Martin by 87, which translated into the fact that he needed only to finish 18th in the NAPA 500 to claim the title.

When it was over, Jarrett and Martin had done the best they could to unseat Gordon, finishing second and third behind Labonte. Obviously, it wasn't enough.

Jarrett, driver of the Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford, wound up a mere 14 points behind Gordon in the final point standings (4,710-4,696) while Martin finished 15 points behind Jarrett and 29 behind Gordon in what turned out to be the closest finish from first to third in the final point standings in NASCAR history.

It was also the fourth-closest championship finish in NASCAR's modern era. In 1989, Rusty Wallace beat Dale Earnhardt by 12 points. In 1979, Richard Petty ousted Darrell Waltrip by 11 points and in 1992, the late Alan Kulwicki bested Bill Elliott by 10 points.

In earning his fifth career victory, Labonte simply humbled the rest of the field. He started 21st, took the lead for the first time on lap 147 and went from there to lead 168 of the race's 325 laps around the 1.54-mile Atlanta trioval, more than any other driver.

"This car ran great all day," said the 33-year-old Labonte. "It was a car that we built for Charlotte and we ran it there and at Rockingham and ran well at both places but just didn't finish like we should have.

"We tire tested down here and that helped us, although we didn't qualifying as well as we should have. Still, we had a good setup for long runs. I tell you, it makes for a long year when you don't win one until the end of the season."

"We did the tire test and ran really well," said Jimmy Makar, Labonte's crew chief. "We didn't encounter any tire problems when we came back down here and we were concerned that we might have missed something.

"We weren't as fast as we should have been in qualifying, but we got that turned around and we were as fast in the race as we were in testing. I agree it's no fun to come here to the last race trying to get into the winner's circle. Hopefully, we can start off next season with an early win."

Even though Labonte pretty much had his way all day, he faced a stiff challenge from Martin, driver of the Valvoline Ford, in the race's concluding laps.

On lap 286, Labonte pitted under the green for four fresh tires. At the time, he had a commanding lead over Jarrett, who pitted on the same lap and thus turned the lead over to Martin.

Martin took a gamble when he pitted on lap 287. He took on only right-side tires and the stop took about eight seconds less than Labonte's. And it put Martin back into the lead, 4.78 seconds ahead of Labonte with 40 laps remaining. Jarrett was in third. The question became, could Martin hold off Labonte?

With 25 laps to go, Labonte had cut the deficit to 3.22 seconds. Eight laps later, the margin was 0.69-second.

On lap 311, Labonte caught Martin and four laps later, he passed him going into the first turn. He would go on to win by 3.801 seconds.

Meanwhile, Jarrett whisked by Martin on lap 323 to take second place.

"Mark was very fast on two tires," said Labonte, who gave Pontiac its second victory of 1997. "But it looked like he dropped a valve or something. I got around him easy and Mark's a great competitor. I don't know how it would have been if he hadn't had the problem."

"I thought we had the cushion we needed when we made that last stop," Martin said. "But we dropped a cylinder."

"We did all we could do," Jarrett said. "We had a good car, but Bobby had an awesome car. Ours was just a little shy of his.

"I had no idea where Jeff was on the track. They didn't tell me and I didn't ask. I knew if we did our job, that's all we could do and then we would see about Jeff.

"But we had nothing for Bobby. When we passed Mark at the end, that is all we could do."

Following Labonte, Jarrett and Martin in fourth place was Jeff Green in the Cartoon Network Chevrolet. Derrike Cope wound up fifth in the Skittles Ponitac, the last driver on the lead lap. Kyle Petty was sixth in the Hot Wheels Pontiac, Bobby Hamilton was seventh in the STP Pontiac, Joe Nemechek took eighthin in the BellSouth Chevrolet, Ward Burton was ninth in the MBNA America Pontiac and Johnny Benson rounded out the top-10 in the Pennzoil Pontiac.

The race endured only four caution periods, one of which was enforced by NASCAR after 25 laps to allow teams to check and change tires.

Labonte, who earned $158,600, won with an average speed of 169.904 mph.

Gordon will officially be crowned the 1997 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion at the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Awards Banquet in New York on Dec. 5, where nearly $2 million in series point money and other bonuses await him. ===== Mike Skinner won the WC Rookie of the year with 257 points, David Green was 2nd with 227, Jeff Green moved up to 3rd with 214 and Robby Gordon finished last and 4th with 208 (AP/Jayski) ===== UNOCAL 76 money for winning from the pole will stand at $53,200 and be available to the pole winner of the Daytona 500 in February 1998. The NASCAR WC Leader Bonus ended at $70,000 and will be added to the point fund and distributed to the top 10 in points at the Banquet (Jayski) ===== "Schneider National Inc., North America's largest truckload carrier, Saturday morning announced its sponsorship of the Dennis Shoemaker-owned NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division team with driver Dick Trickle for the 1998 season."(NASCAR Online), in the #64 Chevrolet (Jayski) ===== Geoff Bodine's new sponsor is expected to be WorldCom, the communications conglomerate run by one of his car owners, John Porter(JournalNow)/Jayski ===== "Hendrick's operation plans a two-day ``engine research and development'' test at Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex next weekend with a Winston Cup car, probably one of 1996 champion Terry Labonte's No. 5 Chevrolets. It will be the first to put a Cup car on the 1.5-mile oval." (Jayski) ===== John "Andretti, meanwhile, would not confirm or deny reports that he has signed on with the Richard Petty team for next year. "There's nothing down in writing," Andretti said. Asked whether he has a handshake agreement with Petty, Andretti smiled and said, "I'm an agreeable type of guy." Yarborough crew members said Yarborough now has a sponsor, said to be an Illinois meat processing company. Yarborough would not be specific but said he is optimistic."(SpeedNet) and another..."And it appears John Andretti will finally sign a long anticipated deal with Richard Petty to replace the outgoing Bobby Hamilton. Sources told iRACE that the announcement could come as early as Monday. Andretti's car owner, Cale Yarborough, will likely sign truck standout Rich Bickle."(iRace) (compilation by Jayski) ===== Mike Irwin (mailto:mike@nascarfans.com) NASCAR Fans _______________________________________

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Derrike Cope , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Mike Skinner , Kyle Petty , Joe Nemechek , Jeff Green , Robby Gordon , Johnny Benson , David Green , Richard Petty , Cale Yarborough , Mark Martin , Alan Kulwicki
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing