NASCAR Winston Cup Jiffy Lube 300 Preview -- #18, Bobby Labonte
10 July 1997
#18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix NASCAR Winston Cup Series Jiffy Lube 300 Advance New Hampshire International Speedway LABONTE HOPES CONSISTENCY PAYS OFF SOON LOUDON, NH - Bobby Labonte has captured three consecutive top-10 finishes to solidify his hold of seventh-place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, but the driver of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac has had his share of troubles at New Hampshire International Speedway, site of Sunday's Jiffy Lube 300. Labonte hasn't cracked the top-10 at New Hampshire since running the inaugural race there in 1993. Labonte finished 10th with car owner Bill Davis that year, but since switching to Joe Gibbs Racing, Labonte's best finish in three starts at the one-mile speedway is 13th, back in 1994. Qualifying hasn't been a problem for Labonte at New Hampshire. In his three starts with Gibbs there, Labonte hasn't qualified outside the top five. His one top-five finish at New Hampshire came after a 17th-place qualifying run. "But that doesn't mean qualifying isn't important at New Hampshire," Labonte said. "It's difficult to pass at Loudon, so we'll put a lot of emphasis on qualifying. Track position is very important in getting a good run. You don't want to be faced with the prospect of having to pass 30 cars right off the bat in order to be in position to run with the front runners." After a two-race stretch marred by crashes that dropped him from fifth to seventh in the point standings, Labonte is back to showcasing the consistent form that had him as high as third earlier this season. In the last three races, Labonte has finishes of ninth, sixth, and 10th. He's completed all 610 laps of competition. Labonte is in the midst of one of his most busy stretches of the season. He flew out to California for the inaugural race at California Speedway on June 18, and upon completion of that race, flew to Alaska for a four-day fishing trip with Makar and a few crewmen. From Alaska, Labonte flew to Watkins Glen to run the Busch Series race there on June 29. He took his wife, Donna, to the North Carolina coast for a few days of vacation before heading to Daytona for the Pepsi 400 last Wednesday. After Daytona, Labonte flew to Milwaukee to compete in the Busch Series race there last Sunday. Monday through Wednesday, he tested the Interstate Batteries Pontiac at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I sure wish I had been able to do all that on commercial flights," Labonte said. "I would have built up some serious frequently flyer miles, but having my own plane made it a lot easier." Labonte returns to New Hampshire in a Pontiac for the first time since running there with Davis. The Grand Prix seems particularly adept to flat race tracks like New Hampshire. For instance, Pontiac driver Bobby Hamilton won the pole last month at Pocono's flat track, and another Pontiac stablemate, Ward Burton, led the most laps in the race. "We knew there would be a bit of a learning curve the first half of the season while adapting to the Pontiac," Labonte said. "I'd have to say based on how competitive we've been this year, we're ahead of the game. Jimmy Makar and the crew have done a great job. We certainly expect to improve on each of our performances the second time we hit a lot of these tracks. If we can do that, we ought to have a great second half of the season." Makar is also pleased with the team's progress through the first 16 races of the season, but the lone missing ingredient is a win. "We feel like we can still make some improvements," Makar said. "We're here to win races. We've proven we can win races. The big thing, other than winning races, is to consistently be in the top-five or top-10 every week, week in and week out. We've already proven we can do that. We should be able to get better with some things we've learned to improve the car, so I think we'll start to run even better." And that means victory can't be far down the road. By Camp & Associates, Inc.