Originally created 03/29/03

Labonte continues hot start in Texas



FORT WORTH, Tex. - Bobby Labonte continued to collect the spoils of victory Friday during pole qualifying for the Samsung/RadioShack 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Three weeks after winning a bass boat at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the younger of two racing brothers from southern Texas earned another trinket, a riding lawn mower, after posting the fastest qualifying lap of 193.514 mph.

Labonte won the race at Atlanta, another 1.5-mile raceway in the Speedway Motorsports Inc. family with the similar D-shaped, double-dogleg front straightaway.

"Obviously we brought a lot of confidence," Labonte said after winning his second pole position of the season. "We ran good at Atlanta, so we brought the same car."

His other pole came at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, yet another 1.5-mile raceway in the SMI stables with the same cookie-cutter shape.

"Speeds are fast here, just like Atlanta," Labonte said. "We picked up a bit from practice. The car was good in practice and we made a few small changes and that made a difference. You can't ask for anything better than that."

Labonte won the race at Atlanta. He was fourth at Las Vegas.

Labonte's lap brought some relief to his Joe Gibbs Racing team. Tony Stewart, his teammate, had his Chevrolet impounded by NASCAR officials during the inspection process early Friday.

Officials said the rear trunk area of Stewart's car was off-center. It was so bad, according to NASCAR president Mike Helton, the organization decided to seize the car for evaluation instead of giving it back to the team for repairs.

The rear area of the car was twisted to be nearly a half-inch beyond NASCAR's tolerances. It was the first time in the sport's 55 years the sanctioning body confiscated a car from one of its teams.

"It was a bad situation for the 20 car (of Stewart)," Labonte said. "Rules are rules. (NASCAR) pretty much showed everyone how they were going to do that from now on (during inspection). Their car was a brand new car with an old chassis. Everybody was trying to get everything they can with the rules they give you."

Stewart qualified 22nd in a backup car.

Labonte said his older brother, Terry, still considers his 1999 victory at Texas as the biggest in his career. Despite winning the Brickyard 400 in 2001 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bobby Labonte said nothing compares to winning in your home state.

"Terry said it was the biggest race he ever won," Bobby Labonte said. "It would be the same for me."

The younger Labonte has the benefit of his own experience and the new ideas of crew chief Michael "Fatback" McSwaim. A year ago, McSwaim was working at Robert Yates Racing, and he used a combination of that team's secrets with Labonte's to squeeze every ounce of speed out of their Interstate Batteries Chevrolet.

"I had tested here last year, and we took some of that stuff from Atlanta and just made a good race car," said McSwaim, who wound up with the bass boat at Atlanta as a present from his driver.

Labonte wasn't sure who was going to end up with the mower.

McSwaim's old team didn't miss him much during time trials. That car, now driven by Elliott Sadler, qualified second at 193.313 mph.

"This is the same car we had at Atlanta," Sadler said. "I'm pretty happy with that."

Ryan Newman was third at 193.140.

"I didn't have the speed I needed," he said.

Jimmie Johnson was fourth at 192.747, followed by Jerry Nadeau in fifth at 192.630, Bill Elliott in sixth at 192.294, Jeff Gordon in seventh at 192.226, Kevin Harvick in eighth at 192.041, Joe Nemechek in ninth at 192.020 and Rusty Wallace in 10th at 191.843.

Labonte said it was easy to transfer the ideas that helped him win at Atlanta, but the biggest thing that race provided was confidence.

"Obviously we were running good at Atlanta and having run good here in the past helps out," he said. "It's just the confidence in our program, as far as tracks like these go."

And if that wasn't enough to build momentum, Labonte knows he still has two races remaining this year at the Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C., and a return trip to Atlanta. Lowe's is configured like its sister properties at Las Vegas, Atlanta and Texas.

"It's one of those things where you get all you can out of it, and when you get done with your lap you can breathe," he said.