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New Car Has Labonte Smelling Success

 

  • Jun 20, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (June 20, 2002)—Everyone enjoys a new car—the shiny paint job, all those zeroes on the odometer and, of course, that “new-car smell.”

Terry Labonte will get a new ride for this weekend’s road race at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., but for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver, a new stock car may not please the senses in the same ways a new street car would.

The exterior of the No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet that Labonte will drive in California is identical to the one he had last weekend at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. There is an array of gauges on his dashboard, but no odometer to track the 224-mile distance of Sunday’s race. And that “new-car smell” will be replaced by the scent of burning rubber, hot brake dust and 200-degree motor oil.

As the Kellogg’s team unveils a new chassis for the fifth time this season, Labonte hopes for more of the same type of success he’s enjoyed in the four previous new-car outings in 2002. In those races, his average finish has been 11th—10 positions higher than his overall finishing average for the first 15 events of the year.

“We’re trying to upgrade our inventory and we’ve had our best races with new cars,” Labonte said. “That’s been one of (crew chief) Jim Long’s priorities since he came on board and we’re positioning ourselves for a strong second half when we turn the corner on the schedule next month.”

Labonte was further buoyed by a “test drive” earlier this week at Road Atlanta, where he put Hendrick Motorsports chassis No. 244 through its initial paces.

“I like road racing because it’s so different than anything else we do during the season,” Labonte said. “It takes a certain temperament to be a good road racer and it just suits my driving style. If you can establish a rhythm and be patient, you can be successful on a road course.”

In the mid-1980s, Labonte won two races on the old road course in Riverside, Calif. In 13 starts at Sears Point, he has a pole position (1996), five top-five starts and four top-five finishes, including a second-place effort in 1992.

The two-time Winston Cup champion is working his way back to a spot among the top 10 in points as he motors toward the mid-point of the 2002 schedule. After sinking to 26th in the standings following the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 3, he’s rallied back to 19th—five spots higher than he was at this point one year ago.

Labonte trails 15th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 136 points and is 308 behind Bill Elliott, who sits in 10th overall.

The veteran also is on the threshold of another financial milestone in his storied career—he needs only $36,000 to surpass the $28 million mark in winnings.

The fifth running of the Dodge/Save Mart 350 is scheduled to start shortly after 3 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday, June 23 and will be televised live on FOX, with radio coverage on Performance Racing Network affiliates. Tony Stewart is the defending champion.

Now in his 10th year behind the wheel of the Kellogg’s Chevrolet, Labonte stands seventh on the all-time money list and is a two-time series champion with 21 career victories.

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