Originally created 02/08/98

Labonte on Daytona pole



DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Forget about sibling rivalry when it comes to the Labontes.

Bobby surprised elder brother Terry on Saturday by knocking the favorite off the pole for the Feb. 15 NASCAR Winston Cup season-opener.

But if anybody was expecting the two-time series champion to be upset about being forced to start the main event from the outside of the front row, they were mightily disappointed.

"I'm real happy for Bobby," Terry said. "We never really have been rivals in anything. We've always gotten along pretty well and I don't think we've ever gone more than a day or two without talking."

Asked what was said when they first saw each other after qualifying, Bobby grinned and said, "I don't think we can say that here. But after that, everything was OK."

It was Terry Labonte, who was the favorite to take the top spot going into the first of three rounds of time trials that will determine the lineups for Thursday's Twin 125-mile qualifying races.

The elder Labonte had led most of the sessions since Daytona International Speedway's 2 1/2 -mile, high-banked oval opened for practice Friday.

He went out second among the 55 drivers who drew for the first round, setting the target at 192.127 mph in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Bobby, the 16th driver to take to the historic track, easily topped that, putting his Joe Gibbs Pontiac on the pole at 192.415.

Nobody came close, and for the first time in the 40-year history of NASCAR's most prestigious race,

brothers will share the front row.

The time difference between the two laps was 0.070-seconds.

"I'm awfully happy," said Bobby, who finished the 1997 season by beating his brother at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "The guys on this team put a big effort into it, more than they ever have. It's paying off. This place here, the driver has some input into it, but not like other places.

"I honestly thought we might wind up in the top 10, with an outside chance of the outside spot (on the front row)," he said. "It was just a little gust of wind or something that made the difference."

Terry lived up to his nickname of The Iceman. He didn't seem the least bit upset at losing the pole, especially to his brother.

"That's all we had," he said. "I knew Bobby had something for us. I figured it would be close. We really qualified at the same speed we practiced, and I knew if we did get beat, we did the best we could."

With Ford introducing it's new Taurus, replacing the discontinued Thunderbird, nobody knew what to expect.

In practice Friday, it appeared the Fords might be capable of pushing the General Motors cars for the top qualifying spots. But when it came time to take to the track on the partly sunny, cool afternoon, the Monte Carlos and Grand Prixs were dominant.

The top Ford, as expected, was the Taurus driven by Rusty Wallace. Instead of challenging for the front row, Wallace wound up eighth at 190.444.

The Tauruses will get their first race experience in today's Bud Shootout, a made-for-TV dash for the previous year's Winston Cup pole winners.

"I feel good to have the best Taurus in the field," Wallace said. "I'd like to be a little quicker, but that's all we could do. We'll keep working on it.

"Racing's what it's all about. Qualifying doesn't mean a whole lot. If it will draft good and handle good for 500 miles, that's the deal.

"We should know more about these cars after tomorrow," Wallace said. "We need to find out how these cars will be in traffic to know how they're going to race in the 500."

In front of Wallace, besides the Labontes, were the Chevys of Kenny Schrader and Dale Earnhardt at 191.787 and 191.006, the Pontiac of John Andretti at 190.828, the Monte Carlo of 1997 pole-winner Mike Skinner at 190.674 and the Grand Prix of former Daytona winner Derrike Cope at 190.617.

Rounding out the top 10 were Ward Burton's Pontiac at 190.130 and the Ford of Lake Speed at 190.062.

Defending Winston Cup champion and Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon was 11th in a Chevy at 189.930.

Rick Mast, who qualified a Taurus well back in the field, said, "This is the first time out of the box for these cars and nobody's had a lot of time to work with them or develop them or find out the tendencies, yet. We know the car's got more speed in it. It's just up to the teams to get it."

Only the Labontes clinched starting spots in the main event. The qualifying races will determine positions two through 30, the next six spots will be filled by the fastest drivers remaining from three days of time trials. Provisional qualifiers, based on last season's car-owner points, will get the next six positions, with one spot available at the rear of the field for a former series champion, if needed.