NASCAR Winston Cup Series NAPA 500 Report: #18, Bobby Labonte
18 November 1997
#18 Bobby Labonte, Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix NASCAR Winston Cup Series NAPA 500 Race Report Atlanta Motor Speedway November 16, 1997 LABONTE, MAKAR MAKE AGREEMENT AFTER ATLANTA WIN HAMPTON, GA - Bobby Labonte and Jimmy Makar made a deal following their win in Sunday's NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The duo agreed to never wait until the last race of the season to win their first race of the year. "We made a pact," Labonte said. "After the race, Jimmy said 'Let's not wait this long again.' Next year were not going to wait this long to get a win." Labonte's fifth career victory and first win of the 1997 season came in a dominating performance that should have rivals worried when the Interstate Batteries Racing Team arrives in Daytona for Speedweeks '98 in 10 weeks. The Interstate Batteries Pontiac was clearly the class of the field, leading 168 of the event's 325 laps. He won his second race in 10 career Atlanta starts and became the first driver to win back to back NAPA 500 races since Richard Petty in 1970 and 1971. "We weren't really sure what was going to happen because we hadn't run more than two or three laps in a row all weekend," Labonte said. "It was an awesome day for us. The first 25 laps of the race I knew I had a fast race car. I wanted to make sure we had good tire wear. "I think everybody did a good job of giving each other room. People didn't race each other that hard. They weren't taking air off each other's spoilers. I'm glad it didn't turn out to be a day like it could've been. That would have left a bad taste in our mouths all winter." Labonte said the team's tire test at Atlanta several weeks ago played a major role in his victory Sunday afternoon. "I think what helped us was when we did the Goodyear tire test," Labonte said. "We were here a couple of days and we had to run 500 miles. We laid down a lot of rubber. Even though we tried a lot of different stuff, we never changed the race car at all. We never changed anything on the race car the whole time we were here because we didn't know how fast we were going to go. We were able to run laps in the 29.50s, and we thought we were pretty comfortable in the high .70s. I thought that was as fast as I wanted to go. We got to know the tires better because we had two days on them a month and a half ago." The weekend didn't get off to a blazing start for Labonte and the team. During time trials Saturday morning, Labonte turned in the 21st quickest speed with a lap of 28.776 seconds, 192.661 mph. "We ran a 28.80 in practice, so at least we were a little quicker in qualifying," Labonte said. I wish we could have picked up more." By Camp & Associates, Inc.