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NASCAR Winston Cup Series MBNA 400 Preview: #18, Bobby Labonte

17 September 1997

 #18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 MBNA 400 Advance
 Dover Downs International Speedway


DOVER, DE - One of the defining moments of the NASCAR Winston Cup
season took place at Dover Downs International Speedway for Interstate
Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte, and the consequences are still
felt four months later.

A crash while leading June's Miller 500 stole precious momentum the
Joe Gibbs Racing team was building in a run at its first Winston Cup
championship. Now Labonte is out to conquer the "Monster Mile" in
Sunday's MBNA 400 in hopes of claiming his first victory of the
season, and earning a little redemption in the process.

Labonte won the pole for Dover's June race, and led the first 29 laps
before getting spun by Kyle Petty and crashing hard into the outer
wall. Labonte's crew worked feverishly to get him back on the track,
but he could muster only a 40th-place finish after doing so. Entering
the race, Labonte was fifth in the point standings, 207 points out of
the lead. After Dover, he was seventh, 280 points behind.

The crash seemed to curb the team's momentum, and Labonte fell into a
slump.  Although he's managed to hold seventh-place since that race,
he failed to collect top-10 finishes in five of seven races starting
with the Dover debacle.

"I guess a wreck like that can put you in a slump, Labonte
said. "Dover was something we didn't need. We were fifth in points
before that race and seventh afterwards. Since then we haven't
moved. It dropped us down to a spot in the point standings we haven't
been able to pull ourselves out of. That was a real down point in the

Labonte is 108 points behind Dale Earnhardt in the chase for
sixth-place in the point standings with seven races remaining on the
schedule. Labonte hopes to creep closer to sixth beginning at
Dover. He'll do so in the same Pontiac that was crumpled there last

"We ran that Pontiac at Bristol a couple of weeks ago and finished
eighth with it," Labonte said. "We really had a better run going than
that, but we had a couple of things happen to the car that we couldn't
control. We just didn't have a good qualifying run (38th), and that
hurt us, too.

"Hopefully, we'll have the same kind of car up there this time that we
had last time before it got destroyed," Labonte said. "Jimmy Makar and
the entire crew really put in a lot of work to get it fixed. It took a
front snout, a rear clip, about the whole body, and a new right-side

The Dover crash was a definite setback for Labonte, but he refuses to
dwell on the past. Time is running out on a season that started out on
such a promising note for the Joe Gibbs Racing team. It's still been a
solid season, with two poles, five top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in
25 starts. But there's still one thing missing.

"The only thing left is a win," said Labonte, who finished second in
the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I think we're
getting closer based on the consistency of our runs. We don't have a
win yet, but we've only got one DNF, so I guess you can say that's a
decent trade off. But we definitely want to get back into a winning
situation. We're pretty consistent and getting closer and closer to
the front."

Dover could prove again to be a defining moment in the season for
Labonte. And this time he's intent on it being a turn for the better.

By Camp & Associates, Inc.