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NASCAR Winston Cup ITW DeVilbiss 400 Preview: #18, Bobby Labonte

14 August 1997

 #18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 ITW DeVilbiss 400 Advance
 Michigan Speedway

BROOKLYN, MI - Two weeks ago Bobby Labonte nearly won the Brickyard 400 
thanks to the fuel economy in his Interstate Batteries Pontiac. Races at 
Michigan Speedway also often boil down to fuel mileage, so Labonte may be in 
the catbird seat for Sunday's ITW Devilbiss 400.

Labonte earned his best finish of the season with his second-place run in the 
Brickyard 400. The team relied on it's penchant for stretching fuel to the 
max to get Labonte up front. He went the final 115 miles on one tank of gas.

Labonte and crew chief Jimmy Makar have carved a reputation as having one of 
the most fuel efficient cars on the circuit. Makar said it takes driver and 
crew chief working in unison to make the strategy work.

"The driver plays a big part in gas mileage," Makar said. "He's got to be 
thinking fuel mileage the entire time he's out there. He has to be easy on 
the car. He has to ease a little off the throttle. If your calculations are 
right, it shouldn't be a big gamble, just a little gamble."

Getting good mileage is always a top priority at Michigan. Caution flags 
seldom fly with regularity at the wide superspeedway, so many teams opt to 
stretch their fuel mileage with each pit stop in order to gain a cushion on 
the competition.

"We're always trying to conserve gas," Labonte said. "When we get into that 
situation, we try to keep our Pontiac as free as possible to conserve gas and 
get good gas mileage. Michigan is so big and wide you don't have many 
accidents because there is more room for error. When there's fewer yellow 
flags it brings fuel mileage more into play. It's more typical to have a 
wreck the first 50 laps than the last 50 laps. If you get one in the first 50 
laps, and it stays green and works out the right way, you can make more fuel 
mileage than everyone else.

"I think it's more along the line of you're racing, racing, racing, and as it 
gets closer to the end, you start thinking, 'Hey, we've got a chance. We 
might be able to make it all the way on gas, if we go two more laps on each 
stop.' All of a sudden, you're able to go six laps further than everyone 
else. If they've got to only get gas and go, I'm still going to beat them. I 
think it's really in the back of your mind until later in the race. When 
you're not running particularly well that can work out to your advantage."

Labonte seldom has a problem with running well at Michigan. Two of his four 
career wins have come at the track located in the Irish Hills of Michigan.  
In four August starts at Michigan, Labonte has never finished out of the 
top-10. In 1995, Labonte won both races at Michigan. Overall, in nine career 
starts at the superspeedway, Labonte has six top-10 finishes.

In June's Miller 400, Labonte ran with the leaders through most of the race 
before getting shuffled back and settling for ninth.

"We ran third, fourth, fifth, most of the time," Labonte said. "We led some, 
and I was feeling pretty good, but then we got tighter as the race 
progressed. We've got to make sure we don't do that again. We feel like we've 
figured out why it did that."

Other than his shining record at Michigan, Labonte isn't sure why the track 
suits him so well.

"I really used to not like Michigan, but now I do, and I really don't know 
why," Labonte said. "There's not any one thing there that makes me say, 'Hey, 
I really like this place.'"

Another trip to victory lane at Michigan and maybe Labonte will finally know 
why he likes the track so much.

By Camp & Associates, Inc.