Labonte Bridesmaid Again

Bobby Labonte arrived at the California Speedway this past weekend with a wish list of sorts. A list of things he hoped to accomplish before the checkered flag fell on Sunday's Auto Club 500. And while he came up short on recording his second victory of the 2003 season, Labonte did impress his peers and the fans alike with a gritty second-place finish that came down to a photo finish over Rusty Wallace.

"That was fun," said an exuberant Labonte after the 250-lap event. "We were not that good on Saturday, but we all put our heads together yesterday afternoon and this morning and it worked. The car was a little fickle at times, but it was a great run for the Interstate Batteries Chevrolet and the entire Joe Gibbs Racing team. I am really proud of this one. Like last week at Martinsville, we earned this one."

After running poorly the last two years at the two-mile oval located about 40 miles east of Los Angeles, Labonte hoped he would be able to build on the momentum gained from his second-place finish last week in Martinsville.

"I felt like today was the first time I had really raced here in three years," admitted Labonte. "We were just terrible in 2001 and the last season the motor lost the belts just 10 laps into the race and we spent the remainder of the event trying stuff out on the car. It was basically a test session for us."

"Today was great because we never stopped working all weekend," added Labonte. "It's satisfying when you work so hard like that with everyone on the team and it all works out. 'Fatback' (Michael McSwain) and Brandon (Thomas - Team Engineer) and all the guys had input on the set-up. It was definitely a collective effort."

With the 2nd-place finish, Labonte moves up to the 8th position in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings. Only 10 races old, the 2003 season has been a roller coaster so far for Labonte and company, but he is pleased with his second consecutive runner-up finish.

"We needed this one badly," explained Labonte. "We have run good so many times this season, but we have some finishes that don't show that and that has really hurt us. Daytona and Talladega are throwaway races in my mind anyway, but Texas and Darlington really hurt. Finishes like this help ease that pain a little."

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