Labonte finishes third, but is it too little? By Dan McCorriston PHOENIX (Nov. 7, 1999) Joe Gibbs was a happy man on Sunday. Happy, but not ecstatic. Not only did his rookie driver, Tony Stewart, take a commanding lead halfway...
Labonte finishes third, but is it too little? By Dan McCorriston
PHOENIX (Nov. 7, 1999) Joe Gibbs was a happy man on Sunday. Happy, but not ecstatic. Not only did his rookie driver, Tony Stewart, take a commanding lead halfway through the Checker Auto Parts/Dura Lube 500 and hold on to win, but his other driver, Bobby Labonte, took third place.
Any owner with two teams finishing in the top-3 would be delighted, but there was some bad news in the Gibbs camp. Despite performing solidly nearly every week, Labonte's NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship hopes are slipping away.
Currently in second place in the point standings, Labonte is obviously the one driver with the best chance of catching Dale Jarrett. But Jarrett has a commanding lead, thanks to his charge from well back in the field after cutting a tire. With Sunday's sixth-place finish, he stands 231 points ahead of Labonte -- a 15-point gain for the 18 team, but not nearly enough with only two races reamining.
The chance of overtaking the 88 bunch is still there, but the odds are getting smaller and smaller. Truth be told, Labonte thought the championship race could be over this weekend given his past performances at Phoenix International Raceway.
"As far as the points we've got to go through it another week," said Labonte. "I thought it would be over with by now. That was the best we'd been in a short run, at the end there. We made an adjustment on the bar for a quick run. The guys did a great job. They changed motors on me this morning and the thing worked awesome.
"We weren't really able to keep up with all the track changes. I don't know enough about this race track. I don't run good here. We kind of had to adjust a little bit after everyone else did probably, but maybe we learned something for the next time."
Labonte also acknowledged the stellar performance of his teammate Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing on the whole.
"That's the best I've ever finished here," said Labonte. "That's my first top-5 (at PIR). Everybody at Joe Gibbs had a great day today, so it was a good one for all of us. I'm excited for the guys. They did a great job today. We got one set of tires and didn't get a good restart there. When it came around it was really good on long runs. I think we just didn't chase the track right. The last time out we were pretty good for the 40 laps. It was a good day for the Interstate Pontiac."
Jarrett needs to finish eighth or better next week to clinch the championship, so it's really out of Labonte's hands now. Even two wins in a row won't guarantee a title at this point. All he can do is race hard until the end, and take what he can into next year for another run.