Hendrick Motorsports

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Labonte Searching for Second Sonoma Pole

SONOMA, Calif. (June 24, 2004) – With Hendrick Motorsports drivers capturing pole positions in three of the last five NEXTEL Cup events, perhaps it’s Terry Labonte’s turn to set the qualifying pace this week on Infineon Raceway’s two-mile road course.

Brian Vickers (Richmond, Va.), Jimmie Johnson (Concord, N.C.) and Jeff Gordon (Brooklyn, Mich.) all have taken turns atop the qualifying board this year.

In 15 career starts at Infineon (formerly Sears Point), Labonte has five top-fives and seven top-10s, including a second-place finish to Ernie Irvan in 1992.  He won the pole position in 1996 en route to his second Cup Series championship and finished 25th in last year’s visit to northern California’s famed wine country.

Labonte thinks qualifying will be especially important at Infineon this time around.

“To tell you the truth, I liked the track in its old configuration where there were more places to pass,” he said.  “Now, there is such a high premium placed on qualifying out there because it’s so difficult to advance your position in the race.”

Sunday’s DHL 400 at Michigan was Labonte’s 300th superspeedway start (including road races) for team sponsor Kellogg’s.

He finished 26th, one lap down to winner Ryan Newman, after cutting a tire late in the event as the race finished under caution.

“We gambled there near the end, staying out on old tires in exchange for track position,” Labonte said.  “It was my call and it didn’t work out.  Then we cut a left-rear tire and didn’t even finish.

“I think we had a top-10 in our sights, but it got away from us in a hurry.”

With 11 races remaining before the finalists in NASCAR’s “Chase for the Championship” are determined, Labonte is 267 points behind 11th-place Kasey Kahne, the final driver currently eligible to participate.

“Fortunately, (the Michigan finish) didn’t hurt us that badly, but now our margin for error has shrunk a little bit,” Labonte said.  “We have to pick up 11 spots in 11 races if we’re going to be in the championship chase at the end of the season.”

Only those drivers who are in the top 10 or within 400 points of first place following the Sept. 11 Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond, Va., will be eligible to win the 2004 NEXTEL Cup championship.

Through the first 15 races of the 2004 season, Labonte has completed more laps than any other Hendrick driver—having run 4,607 of the 4,850 laps possible.

Vickers is next with 4,565; Johnson has completed 4,530; and Gordon has logged 4,284 laps.


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