Labonte takes Bud Pole as Stewart's stand-in Shawn A. Akers CONCORD, N.C. (May 21, 1998) Maybe Bobby Labonte ought to fill in for Tony Stewart a little more often. Not that Stewart hasn't held his own in his first season driving the No. 44...
Labonte takes Bud Pole as Stewart's stand-in Shawn A. Akers
CONCORD, N.C. (May 21, 1998) Maybe Bobby Labonte ought to fill in for Tony Stewart a little more often. Not that Stewart hasn't held his own in his first season driving the No. 44 Joe Gibbs Racing Shell Pontiac in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division -- Stewart has more than proven himself in the early going in the 1998 season.
It's just that when Labonte does get a chance to drive the No. 44 Pontiac that was once his regular ride, good things happen. While filling in for Stewart at Darlington in March, Labonte won the Diamond Hill Plywood 200. And Thursday Labonte piloted the car to the top starting position for Saturday's CarQuest Auto Parts 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, winning the Bud Pole with a lap of 178.822 mph.
Stewart is in Indianapolis this week, honoring his commitment to drive for Team Menard in the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. This will be Labonte's second start in the car this season.
"We were surprised to win the pole," Labonte said. "We picked up a tenth of a second, so they must have changed the car or something. The car was a whole lot better than I could drive. That's not like me.
"This is the same car we won with at Darlington. It's the best we ran all day. With Tony Stewart in Indy, we wanted to keep the No. 44 up in the owner points. The best option we had was for me to drive in the five races where Tony was racing in the IRL. This was one of them. Maybe we can get him to stay home a little more."
Labonte barely bested Kevin Lepage, driver of the No. 40 ChannelLock Chevrolet, for the Bud Pole. Lepage turned in a lap of 172.756 mph, good enough to sit beside Labonte on the front row for Saturday's race.
Like Labonte, Lepage is pulling double duty this weekend, driving in both the CarQuest Auto Parts 300 and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday.
"We didn't get a lot of practice this morning, with running back and forth from the Winston Cup garage to the Busch garage," Lepage said. "Then, when we would try and get a qualifying run in, someone would crash. The times were surprising. We had to get up to speed.
"We were hoping to get the pole. After finishing second here last year, we feel like we have gotten a grip on this place. The pit stops will be critical for us Saturday. We have the package to win, so we'll see what happens."
Jim Bown, Dale Fischlein, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Mark Green, Jeff Burton, Elliott Sadler and Joe Nemechek rounded out the top-10. Nemechek is the race's defending champion.
Two-time defending series champion Randy LaJoie was 29th-fastest in Bud Pole Qualifying Thursday with a best lap of 170.476 mph. He'll take a past champion's provisional and will start 43rd on the grid Saturday.
Buckshot Jones, who won two weeks ago at Loudon, N.H., was also forced to take a provisional, as were Jason Keller, last week's winner Tim Fedewa, Jeff Purvis, Elton Sawyer and Shane Hall.
Those who did not make the field on speed or through a provisional will participate in the CarQuest Auto Parts Challenge Race Friday, beginning at 1 p.m. The race will be 40 laps to determine the final eight positions for Saturday's race. By the rules, LaJoie must start that event to get the past champion's provisional spot.
Among those also participating in Friday's Challenge race will be Jimmy Spencer, Hickory winner Ed Berrier, Matt Hutter, Blaise Alexander, Mike Cope, Kenny Irwin and leading Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Andy Santerre.
Source: NASCAR Online