Practice Makes Perfect

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - Whether you are at this weekend's Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 in person or watching it at home on television, you can be guaranteed that you will hear the driver's complaining that their car has lost all of its grip and they just can't seem to drive it anymore. That is, all drivers except for probably one.

For 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte, it provides an opportunity to show who can really man handle these 3,400-pound stock cars when conditions aren't exactly perfect.

While Mother Nature tried to prevent them from testing, Labonte and the Interstate Batteries Racing Team were able to get on the track last week for only one day of a scheduled two-day test session in preparation for this weekend's event. And while the session was not nearly as long as they would have liked for it to be, Labonte was very pleased with the results of the test.

"We had a couple of things in mind as we approached the Rockingham test, but Mother Nature changed all that when we rained out the first day," explained Labonte. "We had to accelerate all of the things we wanted to try during the test into the second day and we still didn't get to try everything we wanted to. Given that the first day was a washout though, I would have to say that overall it was a good test. The guys worked really hard to make a lot of changes to the car and to try as many things as possible before the end of the day."

Within the garage area, Labonte has proven to all that he knows how to take care of his equipment and is usually able to sneak up on everyone during the late stages of the race. Part of that ability is in knowing how to pace yourself and also knowing the harder you run early in a race, usually the less likely you will be to have anything left during the later stages of the event.

"I love a track that is smooth like anyone else," said Labonte. "But I also know that there are a lot of guys who hate going to a track where the surface is a bit worn and the tires are going to give up after a couple of laps. For me, I love the challenge of it and I feel as though that suites my driving style just fine. People know I am usually not one to take off on a green-flag run and try and run the wheels off the car. I might have a pace in mind that I know I can run and still not give up a whole lot to the rest of the field, yet towards the end of the run, have enough left in the car and the tires to get the job finished. That's exactly how I won the race here in 2000."

For crew chief Michael McSwain, Rockingham presents a set of challenges that very few crew chiefs can handle and adjust to as the race goes on.

"While Rockingham may not be as old as Darlington, it can be every bit as treacherous sometimes," said McSwain. "This place will eat up some tires, but that's not a bad thing all the time. It helps separate the better cars from the rest of the pack and if you've got your handling package working right, you can really put a hurting on the rest of the field. Bobby has proven he likes racing here over the years and it's up to me to make sure he is comfortable again."

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