Labonte Finally Smiles

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There hasn't been much to smile about after each of Bobby Labonte's races in 2005.

Finally, it's OK to smile.

Labonte finished sixth in the Subway Fresh 500k at Phoenix International Raceway, his best finish of the season and his best finish since he was third in June 2004 at Pocono Raceway.

The finish was much-needed for Labonte and the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Racing Team, which has suffered unimaginable bad-luck throughout the season. Coming into Phoenix, Labonte had completed the entire distance of a race only once, (California), been involved in four accidents not of his making, and suffered three mechanical failures.

"The guys did a good job," Labonte said. "We were a little too tight in the center (of the corner) all night. We got to sixth-place, so it was a good run for us. We can go home with a smile tonight. The guys did a good job tonight, and they've done a great job all year. We just haven't been able to smile at the end of a race."

Labonte started fourth and remained in the top-15 throughout the entire race, which was delayed a few minutes due to heavy rain that moved through the area about two hours before the scheduled start.

The threat of more rain continued throughout the race and that played havoc with pit strategy. Most teams, including the Interstate Batteries team, made their final pit stop under caution on Lap 239 of the 312-lap event. When the race restarted on Lap 244, Labonte was in 11th-place. He picked his way through the field throughout the remained of the event and managed to pick up five spots by the time the checkered flag was displayed to winner Kurt Busch.

"The track changed throughout the race," Labonte said. "Between the rain and the race starting in the day and ending at night, it changed a little. The racetrack always has a couple grooves here. We stuck on the bottom, we were just a little too tight in the center. I'm glad we got a top-10, it was a good shot in the arm."

Labonte moved up three sports in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings, from 37th to 34th. He has 615 points and is 645 behind leader Jimmie Johnson and 15 behind 33rd-place Scott Wimmer.

Since he is 34th in points, Labonte is guaranteed a spot in next week's event, the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala.

The race begins at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) and will be broadcast live on FOX and MRN.

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