Just Short Of Repeat

MARTINSVILLE< Va. - Almost doesn’t count in any sport, but in racing it seems to be magnified even more. After rolling off the grid in the 39th position for today’s Virginia 500, Bobby Labonte was probably not one of the favorites in many people’s minds to defend his win at the paperclip shaped track from a year ago. However Labonte and crew chief Michael McSwain made both gutsy moves on the track and in the pits to put their Interstate Batteries Chevrolet in a position to win.

“We came in and got two tires,” said Labonte. “That was the biggest thing to help us from fifth to first on that restart on the last caution where we all pitted. That helped us out to get that track position, but the two tires - we had a lot of laps to go on them and a lot of hard laps to go on them because we had a lot of pressure from behind. The guys did a great job in the pits. Fatback made a great call of taking two. He asked what I wanted - track position or tires. I said, ‘Can I have a little bit of both? He gave me two tires, which got us track position also.”

“It was a great job on their part because I know we couldn’t have passed them if we had restarted fifth because our car wasn’t as good on four tires all day long on a restart, so it was a good call by them to get us a second place finish,” added Labonte.

Having almost been lapped by eventual winner Jeff Gordon around lap 35, Labonte methodically started maneuvering his way through traffic like it was standing still at times. From lap 25 to lap 75, Labonte gained 17 spots, but more importantly, he put a lot of room between himself and the leaders. And while it may have taken a little while to get into a groove, Labonte showed a great combination of patience and aggressiveness to get the job done.

“I guess we were almost too patient there for a while at the beginning of the race,” admitted Labonte. “We were running two cars from the end. It didn ’t seem like it was too long and they said the leader was right behind us. I know we had passed a few cars. But, our car was really good all day and it was better in the long run. Thank goodness we had some long runs early in the race to get us past some cars and get us ahead of some cars for track position, so that helped out. But, we had to be patient all day. I ran the brakes pretty hard for the first half of the race and had to really be careful of that. I still had plenty left. But, this place here - whether you start up front or in the back you’ve got to be patient because it is such a grinding race on the race car.”

When asked if today’s second-place finish would help build his confidence for the remainder of the season, Labonte responded, “This whole year - other than a couple of problems that we had that we really couldn’t help on our own ­ we’ve had good finishes. That’s what we try to build ourselves on, in consistency and everything. We’re really excited. Plus, we had a lot of pressure on us. My nephew finished second last night and my son finished second in his quarter midget race, so we had a lot of pressure on us today.”

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