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Bobby Labonte Wins Darlington Pole with "Pretty Darn Good Lap"

29 August 1997

DARLINGTON, SC -- "That was a pretty darn good lap," said the pole sitter of the Mountain Dew Southern 500 - Bobby Labonte. Labonte, who drew the #2 pill went out second and set the mark to beat early. "When Jimmy Makar old me I ran an .80, I said, 'Boy, I really screwed up,' thinking they meant it was a 29.80. Then when I found out it was a 28.80 (28.815 seconds 170.661) - , I thought that was pretty good."

The driver that'll be sitting next to Labonte when the green waives is Bill Elliott. Elliott, looking to break a long dry streak - which dates back to the '94 edition of the Southern 500, ran a 28.840 second (170.513 mph) lap. "Any time you can make a lap here, it's a solid lap. I ran a (29).09 in practice and I didn't think I could run any faster. But I sucked it in and I stuck my foot in it and here we are."

Dale Jarrett, fresh from last week's victory at Bristol, will line up third on the field. Is Jarrett ready to race? You bet. "We are here to win the race," said a determined Jarrett. "Whether that takes money away from anyone or not, that doesn't even concern us. Our concern is winning the race. We know that is the only way we are going to solidify ourselves more in the championship battle."

The drivers rounding out the top-five are Mark Martin and Ken Schrader. Schrader said of his lap, "I butchered three and four just a little bit. I don't think we had anything for bobby Labonte, so it doesn't really matter too much."

"We had a shot at the pole," said Jeff Gordon - who will start seventh Sunday. "I knew Bobby Labonte had set an unbelievable time and it was going to be hard to beat. We got all that we could out of it and I'm happy with that."

The #3 entry of Dale Earnhardt, once a dominate car here at Darlington, qualified 37th. Earnhardt said after his run, "There's really not much to say about that lap."

Second round qualifying, for positions 26 to 38, will be run tomorrow at 11:00 AM. A field of 42 - or possibly 43, should Rusty Wallace or Earnhardt need a former champions provisional, will roll off Sunday at 1:00 PM

Mike Snow -- The Auto Channel