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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


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.