Labonte aiming to get back up in the points By Shawn A. Akers NEW YORK (Nov. 26, 1998) When Terry Labonte won the 1996 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship, he literally had nowhere to go but down. What he didn't anticipate is falling...
Labonte aiming to get back up in the points By Shawn A. Akers
NEW YORK (Nov. 26, 1998) When Terry Labonte won the 1996 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship, he literally had nowhere to go but down.
What he didn't anticipate is falling as far as ninth place in the final NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings in just two seasons. At the top of the heap at this time two years ago, the driver of the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet has struggled just to keep his place on stage at the NASCAR Winston Cup Awards Banquet, to be held at the Waldorf-Astoria on Friday, Dec. 4.
Last season, Labonte finished a solid sixth in the points, but managed only one trip to Victory Lane. He had looked forward to a much better campaign in '98, but the consistency he's been known for over the years, especially since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 1994, eluded him this season.
A solid, but not spectacular start to the season kept the Labonte and the Kellogg's crew, led by crew chief Andy Graves, focused on getting their championship back. A stretch of six straight top-six runs, between the TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington and the California 500 presented by NAPA at Fontana, Calif., was interrupted only by a 26th-place finish in the Goody's 500 at Martinsville.
By the time the two-week stretch at Charlotte came around in May, Labonte was a firm second in the standings behind the surprising Jeremy Mayfield.
A disappointing 41st-place showing in the Coca-Coca 600 at Charlotte dropped Labonte to fifth in the points, and a 10th-place run at Dover the next week dropped him to sixth. Labonte would get no higher than fifth again all season.
The weekend following Dover, however, came the highlight of the year for Labonte and the Kellogg's team. After scratching and clawing his way into the top-five of the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway, Labonte was able to squeeze past Dale Jarrett in the final laps to take the checkered flag and earn his only victory of the season.
"You just don't know how big it is to win a race early in the season, the first half of the year like this," Labonte said after the race "We felt all along like our second half of the year would be stronger than our first half.
"We really have felt like we've missed a couple of opportunities to win already this year. We had a great car at Bristol, a great car at Talladega and we came up short at both of those places. This was a big win for us, to be able to do this."
The second half of the season, however, wasn't better than the first. In the final 16 events of the year, Labonte managed just six more top-10 finishes to give him 13 for the season. His best effort in the second half was a third-place run at Talladega in the Winston 500.
Labonte did reach another milestone late in the season. In the Dura-Lube/Kmart 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in late October, "The Iron Man" made his 600th consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup Series start. He will begin the 1999 season at Daytona with 602 consecutive starts.
Labonte's ninth-place finish in the points marks the 16th time during his illustrious career that he's finished in the top-10 in the final standings. He's been up on stage all five years he's been at Hendrick Motorsports.
Source: NASCAR Online