Gibbs race team comes together at Daytona Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 14, 1998) Tony Stewart wouldn't exactly classify Saturday as one of his better days in racing. For the Joe Gibbs Racing team, however, it...
Gibbs race team comes together at Daytona
Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 14, 1998)
Tony Stewart wouldn't exactly classify Saturday as one of his better days in racing. For the Joe Gibbs Racing team, however, it could have been the beginning of another multi-car team coming of age.
Stewart wound up finishing 31st following an accident late in the season-opening NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division NAPA Auto Parts 300 at Daytona International Speedway. But throughout most of the race, with the help of teammate Bobby Labonte, the multi-talented Stewart proved he could run up front consistently in his third race on the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Labonte continually coached Stewart on the radio throughout the afternoon, steering him through trouble and helping him stay with the lead pack of cars, which included the likes of race winner Joe Nemechek, Mark Martin and Jeff Purvis.
In his first full season in the NASCAR Busch Series, Stewart, the defending Indy Racing League champion, plans to join Labonte in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series ranks on a full-time basis in 1999. There are plans for Stewart to run a few NASCAR Winston Cup Series races this year to get him some experience.
"I think he showed today that he (Stewart) can be a different kind of racer, that he can handle the restrictor plate," said Joe Gibbs, owner of Stewart's No. 44 Shell Oil Pontiac. "He showed a lot of patience. And the good thing that happened today was Bobby (Labonte) talked to him several times during the race, telling him 'you're pulling away,' or 'probably the best thing to do is stay in line.'
"The biggest thing for our race team is that he and Bobby have become real close. I think that's what's going to be good for us down the road. Bobby needed a teammate like that. It gives us somebody to work with Bobby."
Labonte, who will start Sunday's Daytona 500 from the Bud Pole, was very impressed with Stewart's run on Saturday.
"I think the point is that he got almost a full race in and everybody out there saw what he's got," Labonte said. "It was just another experience for Tony as he takes the step upward eventually to (NASCAR Winston) Cup."
Stewart, who made five starts for Gibbs last season, including a third-place finish at Charlotte in October, was in the hunt for his first NASCAR Busch Series victory in the waning stages Saturday when he cut a tire and hit the wall going into Turn 1 on lap 110.
Stewart said he ran over some debris, ruining for him what could have been a glorious afternoon.
"I never felt myself run over anything and I didn't see anything, but it had to be something," Stewart said. "It doesn't take much. We had a good car all day, and it's a shame for Pontiac and Shell. They gave us a great race car, and it's just a shame we couldn't bring it home."
Stewart's misfortune, however, doesn't change the fact that he'll be a force to be reckoned with in the NASCAR Busch Series in 1998, especially with an owner like Gibbs and a teammate like Labonte behind him.
"To run up front with the guys I was running up front with, I learned a lot," Stewart said. "I know we had a good weekend. But at the end of the day when you read the report, it's not going to show that. Yeah, we'd have had a better weekend if we'd finished the race, but we had a good weekend; we ran up front, and we know we had a strong car."
Courtesy of NASCAR Online