Labonte Is King Of Cup
November 12, 2000 | 2:14 P.M. EST
On Sunday afternoon, under beautiful Florida skies, Labonte won the first Winston Cup title of his career with a fourth-place finish in the Pennzoil 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
So heading to the season-finale at Atlanta, where he is the defending race winner, Labonte can kick back his heels and go for broke. No matter what, he will head into next year as the defending Winston Cup champion, an honor his brother Terry has enjoyed on two different occasions.
By clinching the title, Bobby and Terry Labonte are the only two brothers to have won a title at NASCAR’s premier level.
When asked if he had gone to Terry for any advice to make it through the grind of winning the championship, the younger of the Labonte brothers said there wasn’t a lot he could have asked. It was just something he had to experience for himself.
“We haven’t talked a whole lot about our racing,” Bobby says. “It’s just been general conversation. We really haven’t talked about the championship a lot. He was real excited. Week-in and week-out, he was keeping track of me a little closer now than he had the past 10 races. The past six or seven races he has probably kept better track of what we’ve been doing. He didn’t sit down and say, ‘Alright, this is what you need to do.’
“He might not know how to explain it because I’ve read where he has said this before: ‘It looks like they did everything right, so I didn’t need to tell them anything.’ It’s not that he feels that way. We do talk about things. But if we did something wrong, I believe he would be the first one to have told us. I know he was a little fly on the wall watching us, just making sure I didn’t screw up.”
Labonte said that aside from his family, his accomplishment on Sunday was the greatest day of his life.
"It’s a great accomplishment,” Labonte said. “When you see those guys out there that have been past champions, to be a part of that crowd is very special. Your chances are pretty slim of getting there, but I think when you do get there that is the most exciting part about it. That's what it's all about - being part of a crowd that is a very limited few over the many years. It's a very prestigious trophy.”
It was also a notch in the belt of Gibbs, who experienced two Super Bowl titles as head coach of the Washington Redskins. After nine years as an owner of a Winston Cup team, Labonte said he was especially pleased to reward him with a championship of another sort.
“He has stayed about the same,” Labonte says of the low-key approach of Gibbs. “On the way to hospitality, I asked him if he was nervous yet. He said, ‘Yes, I’m nervous.’ He was wishing all those times in the Super Bowl that he could be sitting on the sidelines instead of being the one with the pressure on him.
“It’s kind of interesting this year that he has kind of been on the sidelines and kind of watching us because he doesn’t have his hands in making sure everything is tight or steering the car.”
So heading into the 2000 season finale at Atlanta, Labonte can now go after his fifth win of the year.
“I don’t think heading into Atlanta is that much different this time,” Labonte said. “I know everybody is trying to do the best they can, so it really hasn’t changed a lot. I hate to say it, but we’re still trying to do the same thing we were trying to do last week and the week before that.”
Which may be a bad omen for others heading to Atlanta, a track Labonte has won at once a year since 1996.
The only difference this time, is Labonte is heading into the final race of the season as a the Winston Cup champion.