Sunday, August 06, 2000

Bobby Labonte adds Brickyard to remarkable season




By Tom Groeschen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDIANAPOLIS — Bobby Labonte has gone from the kid brother to The Man.

        Labonte won the seventh annual Brickyard 400 here Saturday, before a sellout crowd of 300,000 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And in a season of parity, Labonte answered the question of who is the top NASCAR Winston Cup driver.

        Labonte, 36, padded his Winston season points lead on a day when older brother Terry (injured) missed his first race in more than 20 years.

        Terry Labonte, 43, has won two Winston Cup season points titles, but now Bobby is on target for his first championship. He won Saturday by 4.229 seconds over Rusty Wallace, the largest margin in Brickyard history.

        “This is one of those races you dream about,” Bobby Labonte said. “To know the guys that have raced here and won here. ... This is one we'll look back at someday and say, "Remember when we won the Brickyard?'”

        Terry watched from the sidelines Saturday, and almost left before it was over. But with Bobby having a chance to win at America's most famous speedway, Terry stayed.

        Terry: “I kept my fingers crossed.”

        Bobby: “I hated for Terry that he was not in the race, but I think he made the right decision in not driving. The streak might have ended for him, but he hasn't

        had the best of years anyway. Maybe it's time for him to turn over a new leaf.”

        Terry Labonte had driven a Winston-record 655 consecutive races, but rested because of a recent concussion and broken right shin. His last Winston Cup title was in 1996, and he has slipped gradually since.

        Terry Labonte's No.5 Kellogg's car was run Saturday by substitute Todd Bodine, who finished 15th.

        Bobby Labonte has ridden the fringe of NASCAR superstardom the past few years. Jeff Gordon (1997, '98) and Dale Jarrett (1999) have won the last few Winston Cup ti tles, but Labonte has made a steady climb. He finished second in last year's points race.

        Bobby boosted his Winston season points lead from 53 to 87 points over Jarrett, the pre-race favorite who finished seventh Saturday.

        Saturday, patience was one of those things. After finishing either second or third in the last three Brickyards, Labonte was wondering what it took for his green No.18 Pontiac to win.

        Wallace led 110 of the 160 laps, but Labonte was on his bumper most of the way.

        With 14 laps remaining, Labonte floored it and pulled alongside Wallace. Labonte then veered right, bumped Wallace's left side and pulled ahead.

        That was it, and Labonte ran away.

        He took the checkered flag a few minutes later under darkening, late afternoon skies. As Labonte hit the finish line, hundreds of flashbulbs fired in the grandstands.

        Wallace, well out of camera range, followed Labonte home.

        “I was real tight all day going into (Turn) three, and that's where he got me,” Wallace said. “Second place isn't bad, but I can't seem to close the deal here.”

        Wallace also finished second at the Brickyard in 1995, and has been a Top 10 finisher in six of the seven Brickyard races.

        Wallace and Labonte basi cally staged a two-car showdown.

        The Brickyard track is always good to frontrunners, with the bulky stock cars unable to pass much on straightaways built for open-wheel Indy cars. Whoever gets out front is rarely caught, and Wallace and Labonte were so dominant that some observers were lulled to naps.

        “I never did see them,” said Bill Elliott, the third place finisher. “They were up there somewhere, I guess.”

        Labonte started third and Wallace 10th in the field.

        Jarrett, who owned last year's race, was expected to run up front again but never challenged.

        “Push, push, push,” Jar rett said. “We just never could get the car freed up.”

        Jerry Nadeau had the most surprising run, moving up from 23rd to finish fourth. Tony Stewart moved up from 18th to fifth.

        Pole sitter Ricky Rudd led early but finished 21st, with questionable pit decisions regarding tires and fuel.

        Darrell Waltrip, the surprise No. 2 starter, finished a season-high 11th. The 53-year-old Waltrip was the oldest driver in the field.

        Terry said he was as nervous as if he'd been driving himself.

        “I watched Bobby the whole race,” he said. “Bobby has always run well here, and today was his day.”

       



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