Critical Drive For Labonte

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Talk about your clutch performances.

Bobby Labonte's fifth place finish in Sunday's Foood City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway wasn't just an impressive run, it put both Petty Enterprises teams into the NEXTEL Cup Series Top 35 to guarantee them spots in this week's race at Martinsville.

It was Petty Enterprises' first Top 5 finish since John Andretti finished second in the spring race at Bristol back in 2001.

"I was looking forward to this week after running 50 laps last weekend," said Labonte, who lost an engine in the early going last week at Atlanta. "Everyone on the team did a great job and I got to drive a great race car today. After last week we were confident we could run good. We just had to put everything together."

Labonte was forced to start Sunday's 500-lap grind at Bristol in 30th place, after the starting line-up was determined by last season's owners' points when qualifying was weathered out.

He worked his way up into the Top 10 as the race slipped just past the halfway mark and from there moved his Cheerios Dodge into the first five.

He dodged several late race incidents to score his best finish of the season.

“This is a tough place, but we were confident we could run well here,” Labonte said. “The guys in the pits gave us good stops all day long and we had a great car. This was a total team effort.”

Labonte may have been able to pick up another spot or two in the waning laps, but got caught up behind the Matt Kenseth-Jeff Gordon tangle on the last lap.

“I got down on the apron and began spinning the tires to get out of the way,” Labonte said. “Then, when I took off, the tires kept spinning and Carl (Edwards) got by me.”

The finish moved Labonte up six spots in the standings, taking the veteran from 38th to 32nd. As part of the magic Top 35, Labonte is assured of starting this weekend's DirecTV 500 at Martinsville, relieving a good bit of pressure for the improving team.

"We want to keep moving ahead and improving every week," Labonte said. "You can slip out of the Top 35 just as easily as you can slip in, and that's something we don't want to happen."





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