The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

NASCAR Winston Cup Series UAW-GM Quality 500 Preview: #18, Bobby Labonte

1 October 1997

 #18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 UAW-GM Quality 500 Advance
 Charlotte Motor Speedway

CONCORD, NC - Rain fell on what Bobby Labonte hoped would be a victory parade 
in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this season. Despite 
that disappointment, the driver of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac is taking 
a sunny disposition on Sunday's UAW-GM Quality 500 at the 1.5-mile 

Labonte was one of the front-runners in May's race at Charlotte, but a lengthy
rain delay shortened the race and foiled the Joe Gibbs Racing team's strategy
to go the distance on fuel in the closing laps to win the NASCAR Winston Cup
circuit's longest race. Labonte finished sixth, but was hoping for a victory. 

"We needed a couple of breaks in order to win," Labonte said. "The rain kind
of messed things up. They shortened the race on us, and that kind of messed 
us up a little bit. We needed a couple of breaks to finish better, and we 
didn't get the first one with the rain delay, and shortening the race hurt 
us, because I think we could have gone all the way. We were going to try a
different strategy, and it just didn't work out." 

Charlotte and success have gone hand-in-hand for Joe Gibbs Racing. Labonte 
captured his first career victory there with the team when he won the 1995
Coca-Cola 600. The team's previous driver, Dale Jarrett, won the 1994 
500-mile race there. Labonte says the team's solid performance at Charlotte 
all boils down to long-time crew chief Jimmy Makar. 

"I think Jimmy is one of the keys to our success at Charlotte," Labonte said.
"I like Charlotte, which helps us out. He had a good base setup to begin with
before I joined the team. We've hit on a pretty good combination there. 
Charlotte changes some, but the setup as far as a baseline remains relatively
the same. There are always a few things you have to change to keep up with the

Labonte has kept up with the pack throughout the season. He's seventh in the
point standings, the highest ranking driver not involved with a multi-car
team. Labonte has five top-five and 15 top-10 finishes after 27 starts.

Labonte won the pole for last year's 500-mile race at Charlotte, beginning a
string of pole success for the Corpus Christi, Texas, native. He won three of
the final four poles last season, culminating with a win from the top starting
spot in the year-ending race in Atlanta. Five races remain on the schedule
this year, and Labonte feels his team is on top of its game.

"I think our team is jelling," Labonte said. "We ran in the top-10 all day at
Dover and finished fourth. Our enthusiasm for the rest of the season is no
different than what it was last year at this time. I think this program just
keeps getting stronger and stronger. Our Pontiacs keep getting better and
better, and we've got a new Grand Prix for Charlotte. Hopefully when we get 
down there we'll start out on the right foot. Hopefully, we can finish the
last five races like we did last year. I think the new car is a little bit
better, and a little bit makes a big difference these days."

The Interstate Batteries team elected not to test at Charlotte after
conducting a two-day Goodyear Tire test at Atlanta last week. Labonte ran two
cars in the test at Atlanta, including his Charlotte racer.

"We tried a lot of different things and ran about 500 miles," Labonte said. 
"Atlanta is really totally different than Charlotte, but it did help in the
fact that we were able to shake down a new car."

A car Labonte and the Interstate Batteries team hopes will carry them to a
victory at Charlotte.

By Camp & Associates, Inc.