Labonte Charges To The Front

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Bobby Labonte continued his steady improvement of the week on Thursday by posting the fastest speed of Thursday's NASCAR Winston Cup Series test session at Daytona International Speedway.

The run of 183.539 mph in the Joe Gibbs racing Interstate Batteries Chevrolet was also the fourth fastest of the three day Pre Season Thunder session.

"We're excited," Labonte said. "We spent two-and-a-half days trying to figure out what we have to make better. We had one car that we just stuck on the side. It didn't go fast at all. We worked on one. Today we put everything on it. We put it all together and came up a fast lap."

"We didn't have the fastest lap of the three days, but we had the fastest lap today, so that's good," Labonte said. "It was a competitive lap with what the other guys had run earlier in the week. We've probably got a little bit that we're holding back on, just like everybody else.

"Everybody's measured by the same thing. When we go through the template room when we come back here -- if they knock two-tenths off, we want to make sure we can at least run the same speed. That's what our goal is -- to run faster or the same speed, not slower."

Michael Waltrip, who with the DEI team has been a dominant force on the restrictor plate tracks the last few seasons, put up the second fastest time in the No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet. Elliott Sadler was third at 183.423, with Mike Skinner fourth and Ken Schrader fifth. Tony Stewart was sixth followed by Steve Park, Mike Wallace, Rusty Wallace and Jamie McMurray.

A one hour drafting session was also part of day's action with Kurt Busch leading the way with a speed of 184.999 mph followed by Rusty Wallace and the surprising Christian Fittipaldi in Andy Petree's No. 55 Monte Carlo.

A second session of NASCAR Preseason Thunder is scheduled to begin next Tuesday for even-numbered points position finishers. That group will include Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ward Burton and Sterling Marlin.

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