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The Callahan Report: Bobby Labonte Takes AC Delco 400 Pole

26 October 1997

[ Bobby Labonte ]Bobby Labonte

ROCKINGHAM, NC: Bobby Labonte captured his third pole of the 1997 Winston Cup season today at the North Carolina Motor Speedway. Labonte will start from the top spot for the AC Delco 400 at Rockingham this Sunday. The driver of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac had a qualifying speed of 156.696 which edged out Dale Jarrett's Quality Care Ford Thunderbird by less than .03 seconds. Labonte captured poles earlier this year at the Miller 500 and the Mountain Dew Southern 500.

"Winning the pole gives us a good start to the weekend and a chance to get a good finish Sunday and keep some momentum going,'' Labonte said. "We want to finish the year on a high note. It always makes you a lot more confident going from one year to the next. And, this year, we don't have a body change on our cars to work on during the winter like we did last year.''

Labonte has qualified well this season, but is still looking for his first win of the year. He has finished in the second spot on two different occasions this year. Both of those high finishes have been in the last two Winston Cup events. Labonte finished sixth here last year. He is sure to be a front runner all day on Sunday.

Row two is occupied by former winners of the race. Mark Martin, who is second in the points race, will start from the inside of row two in a Thunderbird. Martin won at Rockingham in the fall of 1989. He will have the 1995 winner, Ward Burton, beside him in row two. Burton is in a Pontiac.

[ Jeff Gordon ]Jeff Gordon

Martin trails Winston Cup points leader, Jeff Gordon, by 110 points heading into the race this weekend. Gordon will start from the outside of row three on Sunday. Gordon has been driving to win the championship the past few races. He has been concentrating on top five finishes instead of wins. If Gordon can finish in the top six in each of the remaining three races, he will win the championship. That is tougher than it sounds, especially when bad luck strikes. Gordon cut a tire at the last race (Talladega) and started a 23-car pile up. Gordon had a similar lead earlier this season at Bristol when bad luck struck again. Martin left Bristol as the Winston Cup points leader. A lot can happen in one race.

The fifth starting spot belongs to another Pontiac. Kyle Petty "Hot Wheeled" it to the inside of row three. Jeff Gordon's sixth place qualifying spot made him the top Chevrolet in the field. Other top ten qualifiers were Geoff Bodine, Bill Elliott, Ricky Craven and Mike Skinner.

There were some big names who failed to secure starting spots in the first round of qualifying. They include Dale Earnhardt who is still trying to break the much talked about winless streak, now at 56 races. Defending Winston Cup champion, Terry Labonte, is also searching for speed. Labonte is coming off his first win of the season at Talladega.

[ Darrell Waltrip ]Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip suffered one of the biggest disappointments of his career recently at Charlotte. He failed to make that race. He is struggling again this weekend. Waltrip will make another qualifying attempt tomorrow.

Rockingham is a track where Waltrip used to dominate. The driver of the Parts America Monte Carlo is a three-time winner of the fall race. His last Rockingham victory came in 1985.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel

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