Texas Track Good To Labonte Boys
April 1, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
last won a Winston Cup race.
The two-time series champion - the stock car sport's all-time
iron man with 642 consecutive starts - fell on hard times following
his victory at Texas Motor Speedway.
In fact, not much has gone well for the 43-year-old Texan since
he left his home state last March.
Labonte's fifth-place finish last Sunday at Bristol, Tenn., was
his first top-five since outracing Dale Jarrett and younger brother
Bobby to win here in 1999.
Based on his sudden revival, highlighted Friday by his first
pole in nearly four years, Terry is among the favorites heading
into the DirecTV 500 Sunday.
With six different winners in the first six races this season,
the race is wide-open.
``This is a good track for us,'' Labonte said. ``We've got a
good combination setup-wise. It's worked well for us in the past,
but you always have to be a little better because everybody catches
up with you.''
Labonte said his revival after the dismal 1999 season, in which
he finished 12th in the standings, can be attributed mostly to the
return of crew chief Gary DeHart.
DeHart was the crew chief on Labonte's No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet
from 1994-97, guiding the driver to the championship in 1996. But
he left the team after 27 races in 1997, sat out the next season
and worked with Bobby Hamilton last year.
``Gary has got things back in synch again,'' said Labonte, who
is ninth in the points. ``We started out with a top-10 finish
(seventh) in Daytona, even though we struggled there. Every week, I
feel like our team has gotten stronger.''
What would a win mean to Labonte now?
``It would be a big boost for everybody on this team,'' he said.
``It would be great.''
His biggest roadblock Sunday could be Bobby Labonte, who is off
to the best start of his career.
Bobby, 35, is leading the standings after finishing five of six
races in the top six, including a victory at Rockingham. His
finishes of third, eighth and third on the 1-1/2-mile Texas oval
compare favorably with Terry's first, sixth and fourth.
``This seems to be a good track for our family,'' Bobby said,
laughing. ``Maybe we just like the Texas air.''
Bobby Labonte qualified 14th for Sunday's race. In between him
and his brother are some surprising names.
Kevin Lepage will start on the outside of the front row,
followed by rookies Scott Pruett and Dale Earnhardt Jr., defending
series champion Jarrett, Steve Park, rookie Jeff Fuller and Jerry
While Terry Labonte has started 647 races in his Winston Cup
career, the next seven drivers in the lineup have totaled 622 - and
395 of those belong to Jarrett.
``Some of those kids are tough,'' Terry said.
The other race winners this year have been Jarrett, Jeff Burton,
Dale Earnhardt, Ward Burton and Rusty Wallace, all of whom
qualified among the top 25 except Jeff Burton.
The younger of the Burton brothers, who won the inaugural
Winston Cup race at the Texas track in 1997, failed to make the
race on speed and was among seven drivers placed at the rear of the
field by virtue of team-owner points.
Compounding Burton's problem of moving into contention from 37th
in the 43-car is the rain that washed out Saturday's final practice
session. The teams did get to practice for one hour in the morning,
but Burton said that wasn't enough.
``You always like to go into a race feeling like you know what
you're doing and where you're headed,'' Jeff said. ``But if you had
a bad morning of practice and it rains, then it causes a long
There could be more worries ahead for all the drivers, with the
National Weather Service forecast calling for a 50 percent chance
of rain Sunday.
When the race is run, it will be the debut for fourth-generation
driver Adam Petty, whose inclusion was assured by the rainout of
the second round of time trials Saturday.
The 19-year-old, who qualified 33rd Friday, won't have the
much-anticipated chance to race against father Kyle, who failed to
make the lineup.
``It busts the weekend a little,'' Adam said. ``It's still
exciting, but I wish the man that has helped me get to this point
could have been in it.''