Originally created 09/14/03

Veteran drivers understand how fleeting success can be



LOUDON, N.H. - Terry Labonte has been on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series for 26 years. In that time, he's learned a little something about stock car racing.

That's why he didn't get overly concerned about his 156-race losing streak or a current run of success that's taken him into the top 10 in the points standings for the first time in nearly four years.

He can also sit back with indifference to Ryan Newman's season of seven pole positions and six victories because he knows something Newman might not: Nothing lasts forever.

At 26 and with less than two years of experience in Winston Cup, Newman probably doesn't realize just how fleeting success can be. Right now, he's doing a lot of things right. Running up front seems easy. But like every veteran eventually learns, it can all go away just as fast.

"You've got to be on top of your game all the time," Labonte said before today's Sylvania 300 (1 p.m., TNT) at New Hampshire International Speedway. "It's just too tough. If you do this long enough, you're going to be on top; you're going to be on the bottom; you're going to be in the middle. There are a lot of peaks and valleys in this sport."

Actually, Newman, who is on the pole, has experienced plenty of lows this year.

He flipped and crashed at Daytona and Talladega. He was knocked into the second-turn wall on the first lap at California, had brake failure at Martinsville, crashed at Richmond, and watched his car erupt into flames at Michigan.

"We've definitely experienced some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows this year," Newman said. "No matter what you look at in life, whether it's the stock market, the temperature, your race career or your relationship with your significant other, it all goes up and down. You just try to maximize the good part of it and minimize the bad part."

The problems have kept him from challenging series leader Matt Kenseth. By failing to finish five races, he's only sixth in the standings.

Labonte, who is on today's outside pole, knows there probably will be even better days for Newman. And even worse. Newman's experiences in in 71 career starts are nothing more than speed bumps, especially since he hasn't won a championship to know the highest high, and he hasn't had a long drought out of Victory Lane to know the lowest low.

"Every team that goes out to play on Saturday or Sunday, whether it be football, baseball, basketball, that team has a 50 percent chance of winning," Labonte said. "In racing, you have 42 other teams out there trying to beat you. The odds catch up to you in a hurry in this sport."

Labonte has won two championships and he's gone 156 races - more than four years - without winning a race, so he knows best the roller coaster of emotion. He also has history to prove his point.

Rusty Wallace, a former champion, hasn't won in more than two years. Bill Elliott, another champion, has gone more than a year. Former champions Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart have all struggled this year with one victory each, and none is any closer than 593 points of Kenseth.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.