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

22 October 1997

 #18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 ACDelco 400 Advance
 North Carolina Motor Speedway

                   LABONTE OUT TO CRUSH 'THE ROCK'

ROCKINGHAM, NC - Bobby Labonte is on a tear in the Interstate Batteries 
Pontiac with two consecutive second-place finishes, but he looks to go one 
step better in Sunday's ACDelco 400 at North Carolina Motor Speedway, by 
crushing the competition at the superspeedway nicknamed "The Rock." 

Labonte begin his bridesmaid binge at Charlotte in the UAW-GM Quality 500. He
had the dominant car before spinning on lap 103. He still returned to the top 
spot and led 141 laps -- more than any other driver -- but couldn't overcome a
cracked cylinder head that zapped his engine of power in the closing laps. The
following week at Talladega, Labonte rode his brother Terry's bumper to the 
finish line for his third runner-up finish of the season. Labonte also
finished second in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. 

Labonte has eight top-five and 17 top-10 finishes in 29 starts this season. 
He's seventh in the point standings, 107 points behind Dale Earnhardt in
sixth. Labonte is in the midst of a late season rally, having posted three
top-five finishes in his last four starts. 

"You see with a lot of guys when they start running better, it kind of propels
them through the next few races," Labonte said. "They kind of hit upon 
things, and everything is working together. I think after two strong runs 
like we've had, we're going to run good at Rockingham. Everyone on the team 
feels that way. 

"That's the kind of attitude you've got to have. It's hard to have that kind
of attitude if you don't run good, but if you run good it will help out. 
Running well the last two races, and really over the last month, makes the
race team excited about it. It's a team sport, and all the guys are excited 
about the next race after a good weekend." 

Labonte's goal is to not only win a race, but move up in the point standings 
after a long stay in seventh. Labonte hasn't budged from seventh-place for 18
races, dating back to June's Miller 500 at Dover. 

The Joe Gibbs Racing team went through a two-race slump beginning with that
Dover race, and have never been able to entirely make up all the lost ground
in points. That minuscule segment of the 32-race schedule spelled a big
difference in the team's season, Labonte says. 

"I think we kind of fell in the black hole for those two races," Labonte said
of his disappointing runs at Dover and Pocono. "When you're trying to run 
top-five in points and you have a bad weekend like we did at Dover and Pocono,
then you say, 'No wonder why we're not in the top three anymore.' We're
seventh, and you've got to finish in the top-five week-in and week-out to keep
up with the other top guys." 

But Labonte is pleased with his team's overall performance, sparked by crew
chief Jimmy Makar and the strong engines of John Wilson. 

"I think we've really had a strong team this season," Labonte said. "We've 
kept plugging along. Our performance lately helps out and makes us think we 
might be able to get to sixth in points or fifth if we keep on running like 
we're running. We're going to try and do the best we can to finish as high as
we can." 

After stirring second-place runs in the last two races, Labonte can only go 
one step higher.

By Camp & Associates, Inc.