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NASCAR Winston Cup CMT 300 Preview: #18, B. Labonte

12 September 1997

 #18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 CMT 300 Advance
 New Hampshire International Speedway


LOUDON, NH - Rock singer David Bowie scored a hit with the song "Changes" in 
the 1970s, and Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte is taking 
that theme with him to the season's second go-round at New Hampshire 
International Speedway.

Labonte uncharacteristically labored home to a 27th-place finish in July's 
Jiffy Lube 300 at the 1.058-mile superspeedway. Uncharacteristic in the fact 
that Labonte has logged 14 top-10 finishes in 24 starts this season. He hopes
to make vast improvement in Sunday's CMT 300.

"We really struggled last time at New Hampshire," Labonte said. "We changed 
everything last time except me and the car colors to try and get better. 
Nothing worked. So this time we're going back with a different car and a 
different setup, and we'll try it again."

Labonte has made a habit of improving his performance on the second trip to 
each track this season. In four of six such opportunities, Labonte has 
bettered his performance. He's logged four top-10 runs in those six races, 
and was 11th in another.

"Improvement is what you're always looking for," Labonte said. "We hoped we 
would be better the second time around at just about everywhere because we 
had to go through a learning curve when we switched to the Pontiac. We 
learned a lot in the first half of the season that has helped us in the 
second half."

Now Labonte and the Joe Gibbs Racing team are looking for improvement at New 
Hampshire in order to close in on sixth-place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point 
standings. Labonte trails Dale Earnhardt by 84 points in the chase for the 
sixth spot. Sixth-place is worth $135,000 in the season-ending standings.

"I've always qualified good at New Hampshire and raced pretty good there," 
Labonte said. "Lately we've had some bad luck there, and little things that 
have put us in the back. We need to get back to where we need to be there. 
It's usually not a bad track for me."

Labonte has only one DNF this season. That, coupled with the fact he's 
captured top-10 finishes at nearly a .600 clip have paid big dividends.

"We're making top-10 runs week in and week out," Labonte said. "Nowadays 
that's pretty hard to do. If you can keep doing it like we're doing, that's 
good. Now we want to be in the top-five every week, and we're not quite there 
yet. But we're getting closer. At least we're knocking on the door.

"That kind of consistency and position in the point standings sure does help 
Joe out at the end of the year when he has to pay the bills. We don't have 
much damaged equipment and we're top-10 in points, so he won't have to shell 
out so much money."

By Camp & Associates, Inc.