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NASCAR Winston Cup Series DieHard 500 Report: #18, Bobby Labonte

8 October 1997

 #18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 DieHard 500 Advance
 Talladega Superspeedway


TALLADEGA, AL - Talladega Superspeedway's Talladega 500 won't come with it's 
customary scorching temperatures, but Bobby Labonte looks to put the heat on
the competition in his Interstate Batteries Pontiac. 

Labonte applauds NASCAR's decision to move the annual July Talladega race to
its new October slot, and he's optimistic he can win the race after running
third in May's Winston 500. 

"That's probably one of the best things they've ever done to the schedule,
that's for sure," Labonte said. "I remember one race down there when they had 
a red flag. I think it was when Neil Bonnett wrecked in a car he was running 
for Richard Childress. I was running for Bill Davis, and it was hot, hot, 
hot. When I got out of the car during that red flag it was a relief, but it 
really made it kind of worse because I had to get back in the car. That was
the hottest day I remember down there. But there is one added benefit. You 
can sweat away a lot of pounds." 

Labonte had the competition sweating at Talladega in May, and he likes his
chances this time around in Sunday's race. He has good reason for such
optimism. Labonte is coming off a stirring second-place run last Sunday in 
the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He led the most laps of
any driver -- 141 -- and discovered after the race he finished on seven
cylinders. It was a dominating performance that has Labonte closing in on his 
brother, Terry, for sixth-place in the point standings. Labonte is hoping to
cut into that deficit with another strong run at Talladega. 

"We finished 10th at Daytona in July, but we really weren't as strong as we
wanted to be down there coming off the third at Talladega," Labonte said. "But
at the same time, hey, our handling wasn't quite as good, either. At 
Talladega, that isn't quite as critical, so maybe at Talladega our engine will
be strong enough where we can keep up like we did last time." 

The Joe Gibbs Racing team struggled in restrictor plate races last season, but
have turned around their performance markedly this year. Labonte's average 
finish in restrictor plate races this season is 11.3.

"Restrictor plate racing was a struggle for us two years ago," Labonte said. 
"Now we've got people working on that all the time now, instead of six weeks
before the race. That's what it's taken to get better. From the first Daytona
race last year to the final race at Talladega this year, it keeps improving.
It's something we've worked on hard, and we have to, because everybody else
does. We didn't take it lightly at first, we just didn't have the manpower to
do it all. It's like building a house, it doesn't happen overnight. You've got
to keep working on it. Joe keeps adding on to his racing house, and making the
foundation stronger and stronger." 

May's Talladega race went remarkably caution-free, but Labonte isn't counting 
on that luxury this time around. 

"We want to be in position, no matter where we're at, that if there is
trouble, hopefully, we can stay out of it," Labonte said. "I hope it's like
last time where we can run the whole race without a caution, but if there is
one, you want to be in the right place at the right time, whether it's up
front and involves all the cars, or in the back. I hope we'll be fortunate 
enough again to have a good run."

By Camp & Associates, Inc.