Everyone Is Up To Speed

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Even though Bobby Labonte and his Interstate Batteries team needs all the help it can get these days, testing at Talladega Superspeedway was just an afterthought.

Although many other NASCAR Winston Cup teams made the trip there recently, the way Labonte sees it, testing at the mammoth 2.66-mile tri-oval in preparation for Sunday’s Talladega 500 just wasn’t necessary for his No. 18 Pontiac team.

“I’m not saying that testing there wouldn’t help us in some way,” said Labonte, who sits in 21st place in the Winston Cup standings, a whopping 430 points behind leader Dale Jarrett.

“But the with the way the rules are now, we feel as though no one is going to be able to pull away from anyone anyway, so we worked on the cars at the shop and are going to use our tests at other tracks. With Talladega not being as much of a handling track as Daytona is, we just feel like it was smart to save the test until later in the season.”

Other than rookie drivers, Winston Cup teams are allowed seven test sessions throughout the season. The same restrictor-plate rules that were in affect for the Daytona 500 in February will apply at Talladega this weekend.

By Labonte’s standards, restrictor-plate races have not been kind to the defending Winston Cup champions over the past year. Last year’s DieHard 500 in April saw Labonte finish a lap down in 21st place. He then finished 12th in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July, and 12th again at Talladega in October.

In the Daytona 500 two months ago, Labonte was an unwilling participant in the “big wreck,” an 18-car pile-up that relegated him to a 40th-place finish.

The team’s strategy in those events, although logical on paper, appeared to backfire.

“In all of those races, we purposely ran near the back since we knew we were able to pull up on the rest of the pack in a lap or so,” Labonte said. “Unfortunately in two of those races, we got caught up in someone else’s mistake. That’s just part of racing I guess.

“But Talladega is a place where the racing can usually be four-wide and sometimes five-wide, and while I know it’s a great spectacle for the fans that way, there’s nothing wrong with running two-and-three-wide, either. From where I’m sitting, I can promise you, it’s all exciting at Talladega.”

Labonte has two career top-five finishes at Talladega, both in the spring. He ran second to brother Terry in April of 1997, a hotly-contested race that John Andretti appeared to be on his way to winning before the brother duo hooked up with in the draft to finish 1-2.

He also finished fourth in April of 1999 behind Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin.

Labonte’s primary superspeedway car was basically destroyed in the wreck at Daytona in February. Labonte and crew chief Jimmy Makar, however, decided to salvage the chassis and began to rebuild it in preparation for this Sunday’s Talladega 500.

“I just really like the chassis,” Labonte said. “This is the first time in quite a while we have re-hung the sheet metal on this car. And while we had to do some major work anyway, we also changed a couple of things we have found in the chassis.

“Sometimes you just have cars that feel really good to you and others that for some reason or another don’t. I can tell you, this car has always felt good to me and I’m glad we’re bringing it back this weekend.”

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