Atlanta Peachy To Labonte

Given the fact that Bobby Labonte has won five races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, it's easy to see why he is very excited about returning to the mile and a half oval this weekend for the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500. Not to mention the fact that he is coming off his first top-five finish of 2003 this past weekend in Las Vegas. Labonte hopes to record his first victory of the young season in Atlanta with new crew chief Michael McSwain.

"I felt like we would be decent last week at Vegas," explained Labonte. "I guess I never really thought we would capture the pole and finish in fourth position though. I knew if we had left there with a top-10 finish I would have been satisfied, but all weekend things kept clicking for us."

"And with the momentum we all picked up out there, I am even more pumped up about this weekend," added Labonte. "We have always run pretty well in Atlanta, but I just have a good feeling about this weekend's event for some reason."

This weekend's race will be the 21st consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup Series event Labonte has raced in since joining the series full-time in 1993. Given that fact, Labonte has seen a lot of change at the 42-year old facility.

"It does not seem like it's been that long," admitted Labonte. "I used to come here when Terry was racing for Billy Hagan and my Dad and I were working for him back then. It's amazing to think how much has changed since then. I can honestly say I have seen a lot of change at this track, from how small everything used to be to how big it has become. I'm not sure how many seats they have, but I know it's a lot more people than was there when I ran my very first race here in the Busch Series in 1992."

Holding the track records for both qualifying and the race for the spring event means nothing to Labonte. He knows the media and the fans are aware of what a driver has accomplished in their past, and he also knows they share the same 'what have you done lately' attitude which he tends to agree with.

"The records we hold there are not going to guarantee us winning this weekend," said Labonte. "It just shows that we were really good at that track at one point. And we're trying to get back to that point now. If I break the track qualifying record or race record this weekend then I'll be excited about that, but what we did years ago has no bearing on how well we'll perform on Sunday. It's up to us to step the program up and get us back to the front of the pack on a weekly basis."

Speaking of stepping it up. Since the track configuration was changed in the fall of 1997, Labonte has been on somewhat of a tear. Having won the first two events on the newly reconfigured track at the end of 1997 and beginning of 1998, Labonte added two more victories in 1999 and 2001. Additionally, in the 11 races since the change, Labonte has recorded the four victories, seven top-five finishes and one pole position.

"I really like the sensation of speed you get racing there," Labonte said. "It's really the fastest track we have on the circuit now and for whatever reason, I guess I have taken to it like a duck takes to water. There were years when we weren't having a great season and it seemed I could always go to Atlanta a pull out a win. Hopefully this weekend will be no different and we can leave Atlanta a little better in the point standings and maybe have another notch in the win column."

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