TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 21, 1999) Forgive Bobby Labonte if he and the Interstate Batteries Pontiac team are eager to drive through the gates at Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday's DieHard 500. The team is bouncing back from frustrating races at...
TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 21, 1999) Forgive Bobby Labonte if he and the Interstate Batteries Pontiac team are eager to drive through the gates at Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday's DieHard 500. The team is bouncing back from frustrating races at Bristol and Martinsville and hope to turn things around during Sunday's event. Labonte is the defending champion of the DieHard 500. Last year, he won a thrilling race when he used drafting help from Jimmy Spencer to hold off his older brother Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett. Labonte took the checkered flag one car length ahead of Spencer with Jarrett 3rd and Terry 4th.
In 1998, Labonte collected three Bud Poles in the four restrictor-plate races, including the Daytona 500. He became the first driver since Mark Martin in 1989 to sweep both Bud Poles in a single season at Talladega. His average restrictor plate start was 1.25 and average finish was 2.75.
After enjoying such success last year, one might think the team would be tempted to rest on their accomplishments. Instead, the team went to work. Crew chief Jimmy Makar plans to use the Interstate Batteries Pontiac Labonte raced in the Bud Shootout at Daytona in February, not the car Labonte had at Talladega last season.
According to Makar, the reason for changing cars is simple: To qualify better. At Daytona in February, Labonte was 19th after first round qualifying but started 3rd by virtue of his win in the first Gatorade 125-Mile Qualifying Race.
"The reason we're taking the new car is it's built to qualify a little bit better," Makar said. "We're going to try to use it to get a better qualifying position. The car drove good in the Bud Shootout and it was a good car in the draft. We've got a little bit of racing experience with it and it seems as good as our car last year in race mode. We're going to try to pick up our qualifying from Daytona in February and see if we can qualify farther up front. Once we get another full race with it under our belts, we'll see after 500 miles what we think about the car in general."
The team participated in a two-day test session at Talladega April 13-14. Makar said he used the track time to learn as much as he could about the car.
"I think we had a fair test," Makar said. "We didn't run as fast as we thought we could but we never do seem to run very fast on tests anyway when it comes to Talladega and Daytona. We take a motor with a lot less horsepower in it and try to learn things about the car. We'll have a lot more speed when we go back. It looks like it's going to be a good car and we're pretty happy with it."
"It's obvious that we've got depth in racecars and we've got some stuff that we can fall back on if something should happen to us. One of the key things that we've been trying to build at Joe Gibbs Racing is depth in people and racecars so that if something should happen we're not going to be strapped."
Source: NASCAR Online