Labonte Fills In For Bliss

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With Mike Bliss still recovering from recent hernia surgery, NASCAR Busch Series driver Justin Labonte got behind the wheel of the No. 0 NetZero Chevrolet fielded by Haas CNC Racing during a one-day test session at historic Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the 47th annual Pepsi 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race on Saturday, July 2.

Labonte, the son of two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte, was a perfect fit to fill in for Bliss during the test at the legendary 2.5-mile tri-oval. He wheels the No. 44 United States Coast Guard Chevrolet for Haas CNC Racing in the Busch Series.

"Mike had surgery last week and they called me last weekend and asked me to drive it and I didn't really have anything to do," Labonte said. "I'm just trying to help out as much as I can. They've got a new car they needed to test and we're here shaking it down for the day.

"Any laps that I can get on the track are a help to me. I'm here to help out as much as I can. I try to give them good feedback and get the cars as good as we can for when they come back with Mike."

Also testing at Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday was C.W. Smith, who was shaking down his Busch Series car in preparation for the Winn Dixie 250 presented by Pepsico on Friday, July 2.

The 24-year-old Labonte is excited about returning to "The World Center of Racing" for the Winn Dixie 250 presented by Pepsico. In February's Hershey's Take 5 300, Labonte finished 18th and in the Aaron's 312 - the most recent superspeedway race in Talladega - he came home seventh.

"I'm excited," Labonte said. "We had a good car at Talladega. We're bringing the same car we had here in (February). We were pretty good in the practices and qualified eighth but just got real tight in the race. It was just inexperience on my part that we missed the setup. I think coming back here for the second time, I think we'll have a better car and be able to stay up there better."

One thing Labonte can count on when he returns to Daytona International Speedway in July is help from his father Terry, who is running a limited NEXTEL Cup Series schedule this year. Terry Labonte has spent a significant amount of time assisting Justin, who is competing in his first full season in the Busch Series.

"He has helped out as much as he can when he's around," Justin Labonte said.

"He always tries to come to every race he can. He's enjoying his semi-retirement. He's in the Keys right now fishing. He comes to most of the races and sits on the pit box."

Justin Labonte also gets some help from his uncle Bobby Labonte, who drives the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet in the NEXTEL Cup Series.

"It's hard to go over (to the NEXTEL Cup garage) a lot because he's busy and I'm busy," Justin Labonte said. "We kind of hang out at night in the motorhome lot. He usually will tell me what I did wrong in the race. He'll say I should've done this. He helps out a lot too."

Someday, Justin Labonte would like to compete with his father Terry and uncle Bobby in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the most prestigious sports car race in America and the kick off to Speedweeks. Terry and Bobby Labonte competed in the Rolex 24 earlier this year while Justin watched from the sidelines.

"Maybe next year," Labonte said. "We're working on some stuff. I'm going to test with them at Watkins Glen in a few weeks. So hopefully if I don't tear it up they'll let me come back and race with it.

"I'd love to race it. I had fun when we came down here and watched. Hopefully we'll be able to put something together."

The Pepsi 400 Weekend will kick off with the Brumos Porsche 250 on Thursday, June 30 followed by Circle K Pole Qualifying for the Pepsi 400 and the Winn-Dixie 250 presented by PepsiCo on Friday, July 1. The 47th annual Pepsi 400 will cap off the patriotic weekend on Saturday, July 2.

Tickets for the Pepsi 400 weekend and the 2006 DAYTONA 500, including all Speedweeks 2006 events, are on sale now, order your tickets online or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.

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