Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Finishing Touch Labonte Wins Finale, Looks to 2000 Season

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Finishing Touch Labonte Wins Finale, Looks to 2000 Season

Article excerpt

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Bobby Labonte couldn't steal the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship from Dale Jarrett, so he stole a little of his thunder.

Labonte was mathematically eliminated from the points race, but not the century-ending NAPA 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. He drove his bright green Pontiac Grand Prix to an easy victory that quickly established him as one of the early favorites to win the 2000 championship.

He started 37th but wasted little time getting to the front. And once he was there, he led 147 laps, including the final 36, to beat second-place Jarrett by 200 yards.

"When we come to Atlanta, we feel confident we're going to run good," Labonte said after making his fifth visit to Victory Lane this year. "The week didn't start off like we planned. I had to let some laps go by to build up my confidence."

Not only did Labonte make a lasting impression at the 1.54-mile raceway, he established a piece of history at Atlanta by winning from farther back in the field than any other driver. Dale Earnhardt started 31st at Atlanta and won in 1980.

Although Labonte has won four of the last seven races at Atlanta, including three of the last four season finales, he said this year's effort took a lot of work. His car handled poorly during Friday's practice and qualifying sessions, prompting the team to concentrate solely on the race setup on Saturday and accept a provisional exemption into the starting lineup.

During Saturday's practice session, his Grand Prix belched white smoke and died with a broken engine.

"The car was so bad on Friday, I was scared to drive it," Labonte said. "Friday, the car was totally, absolutely terrible for me. I was afraid I was going to wreck. For whatever reason, my butt wasn't telling my brain the right things.

"We got it a little better on Saturday, then we had the motor problems. When the race started, I didn't think we were going to be good enough to win. We weren't sand-bagging [in pole qualifying]. I've never sand-bagged in my life. …

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