Labonte makes it two straight TMS poles

Updated: April 4, 2004, 5:23 PM ET
Associated Press

Bobby Labonte
Labonte
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Bobby Labonte is back on the front row at Texas Motor Speedway. Now he'd like to win at the track in his home state.

Labonte earned his second straight Samsung/RadioShack 500 pole Friday, becoming the first multiple pole winner in Texas. It will be his fourth start from the front row, a spot which has never produced a winner on the high-banked, 1½-mile track.

Bobby and his brother Terry, both of whom are past season champions, are from Corpus Christi, Texas. While it's a 7½-hour drive from Texas Motor Speedway, it's the only NASCAR Nextel Cup track in their home state.

"I was here a few years ago when Terry won. It ranks on Terry's list as one of the top wins he ever had,'' Bobby Labonte said. "I'm sure it'd be the same way with me, it'd be awesome. We'd love to build some momentum, and Texas would be a good place to do that.''

Labonte, in the No. 18 Chevrolet owned by Joe Gibbs, is 13th in season points after finishing 33rd a week ago at Bristol.

With his qualifying lap of 193.903 mph, Labonte just beat Texas pole speed record holder Bill Elliott, the semiretired driver who will start second in just his second race of the season after going 193.729 mph.

Rookie Kasey Kahne, who took over full-time in Elliott's old No. 9 Dodge owned by Ray Evernham, qualified third at 193.673 mph.

"I'm just trying to keep up with Kasey,'' Elliott said. "I still feel good physically and am enjoying the role I'm in.''

Elliott, the former series champion, is running a limited schedule for Evernham Motorsports. He hopes to run 10 to 12 races this season, but a lack of sponsorship could keep that from happening.

Greg Biffle will start his Ford fourth, just ahead of the Chevrolet of Joe Nemechek, who is seeking his second straight Busch win at Texas.

Defending Samsung/RadioShack 500 winner Ryan Newman qualified 15th in his Dodge, and was 10 spots ahead of Nextel Cup points leader Matt Kenseth's Ford.

Two years ago, Elliott set the TMS pole record with a speed of 194.224 mph. He finished ninth then, his only top-10 finish in Texas.

It is the first pole this season for Labonte, and the 26th of his career. His is the first Chevrolet to sit on a pole this year.

"The car stuck like glue,'' Labonte said. "I don't know if it could have been much better. That was a pretty good lap.''

Last year, Labonte finished 37th in Texas after a crash. He never led a lap despite starting up front.

"Last year we had a fast race car, but we had to be too free to start with and got in trouble doing that,'' he said. "The big thing is just to make sure the car handles well and is balanced really good.''

Since top-10 finishes the first four races in Texas (1997-2000), Labonte hasn't finished better than 30th, including 42nd when he had engine problems in 2001 after starting second.

Terry Labonte qualified 30th for Sunday's race.

Kahne will make his fifth top-five start this season, and already has three top-three finishes. He dropped from fifth to 11th in points last week after he collided with Jamie McMurray at Bristol and was knocked out of the race, finishing 40th.

"We put it behind us and qualified third today, so we're looking good this week,'' Kahne said. "I was upset when it happened to be out of the race that early, especially with as good of a car as we had.''

Four drivers didn't make the race, including Busch Series regular Kyle Busch, who failed to join brother Kurt Busch in the field. The others left out were Morgan Shepherd, Andy Hillenburg and Andy Belmont, who spun out and crashed just before taking the green flag.

Jimmy Spencer, in his first race since Daytona, got in on a provisional, replacing Kevin Lepage in the No. 4 Chevrolet.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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