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NASCAR Winston Cup Series Mountain Dew 500 Preview: #18, Bobby Labonte

27 August 1997

 #18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 Mountain Dew Southern 500 Advance
 Darlington Raceway


DARLINGTON, SC - Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte doesn't 
have a $1 million incentive to win Sunday's Southern 500 at Darlington 
Raceway, but then again, he doesn't need such fuel to light his competitive 

Jeff Gordon can win the Winston Million bonus if he wins the oldest race on 
the NASCAR Winston Cup tour, but Labonte hopes to steal his thunder by 
winning his first race of the season. Don't count out the 33-year-old Corpus 
Christi, Texas, native.

Labonte is closing in on a long overdue trip to victory lane. In 22 starts 
this season, Labonte has five top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. At the same 
point in the season last year, Labonte had three top-fives and nine top-10s. 
Beginning with a second-place run in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor 
Speedway, Labonte has one top-five and three top-10 finishes in his last four 
starts. Labonte has captured four consecutive top-10 finishes at Darlington.

Labonte is confident his fifth career NASCAR Winston Cup victory can't be far 

"We've really gained on it the last month for so," Labonte said. "We slumped 
a little in the middle part of the season, but now we're back to running the 
way we were earlier in the season, and if we keep knocking down all these 
top-10 finishes, odds are we'll win a race soon."

Labonte concedes that Gordon will be the odds-on favorite for Sunday's race. 
But Labonte feels his Joe Gibbs Racing team has what it takes to prevent him 
from winning the Winston Million. In fact, a strong run by Labonte would 
enable him to push his season's earnings mark to its highest ever. Labonte 
needs just $90,407 to surpass last year's total of $1,475,196. Labonte has 
won more than $1 million for three straight seasons.

"My first full year on the circuit, we didn't even win $400,000," Labonte 
said."I guess that's another sign of the sport's tremendous growth. The race 
purses go up each year, and the new tracks in Texas and California are paying 
big purses, and that's good for the sport. A million dollars is a lot of 
money, whether it's one race or the full schedule."

Labonte finished fifth in March's TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington, and 
was sixth in last year's Southern 500.

Tire wear is always a crucial factor in running well at Darlington. The track 
is notoriously rough on rubber, putting chassis setups at a premium.

"It's the same thing as always at Darlington," Labonte said. "This track 
wears tires out. You're fast for seven or eight laps, and then the speeds 
really start leveling off. Whoever has the best setup between 15 and 45 laps 
on the tires is going to be the guy to beat. I think everyone will be able to 
make them go for a full fuel run, but we're just really going to slow up."

The fact that chassis setups are so crucial for success at Darlington has 
Labonte feeling confident he can be among Sunday's front-runners. That's 
because crew chief Jimmy Makar has an old formula for success at the 
1.366-mile superspeedway.

"I spoke with Dale Jarrett earlier this season and I told him we were running 
the same setups here that he used to," Labonte said. "I didn't need to come 
in and change it because Jimmy Makar has a great setup for Darlington. Dale 
left this team a few years ago, but Jimmy's still capitalizing on the same 

By Camp & Associates, Inc.