CONCORD, N.C. -- Bobby Labonte enjoys coming to Lowe's Motor
Speedway for all the obvious reasons -- it's close to home, the
facilities are second to none and no one has more recent success at
Since getting his first Nextel Cup victory there in 1995,
Labonte has continued to run up front. His average finish of 4.7
over the past 10 races at the track is by far the best, well ahead
of Mark Martin's 9.4.
He added a second win in October 2000, and he has three poles
since joining Joe Gibbs Racing. Labonte's record at Atlanta Motor
Speedway, which has a similar design to Lowe's, also is stellar:
six victories and an average finish of 6.6.
"Over the course of the years, it just seems those tracks are
more to my liking,'' Labonte said Wednesday. "There's no rhyme or
reason to it, other than I like both of them and it seems to favor
our technique as far as setups go and also my driving style.''
That history at Lowe's hardly helped last weekend, when Labonte
finished 15th in the Nextel All-Star Challenge. He struggled
throughout the night and was the final car on the lead lap.
Not only was the handling of his car off, but a vibration forced
his crew to adjust the drive shaft after the first of three
segments. Normally, a change like that only happens during practice
"I just figured, we weren't going to fix whatever our problems
were, we might as well see if we could stop the vibration,''
Labonte said. "It wasn't that big of a deal.''
Maybe he got his bad luck out of the way in time for Sunday's
Coca-Cola 600. Qualifying is scheduled for Thursday night.
"We screwed up, we just missed it a little bit,'' Labonte said.
"If there was a time to learn anything, I'd rather it be last
While Labonte was plodding along in the all-star race, Gibbs
teammate Tony Stewart was running away with a victory in the
opening 40 laps. He eventually finished third and added to his own
history of success at the track.
Stewart has six top-five finishes in the past 10 races at
Lowe's, including a win last fall. In that span, he has led 414
laps, a total that trails only Labonte and Jeff Burton.
Finding the reason for the team's good runs is about the only
thing that slows down Stewart and Labonte.
"There's just something about Atlanta and Charlotte that we
both like,'' Stewart said. "It's nothing about the track in
particular. It's just something the crew chiefs have found with the
package, and we seem to get around these two tracks pretty well.''
Those crew chiefs, Michael "Fatback'' McSwain for Labonte and
Greg Zipadelli for Stewart, work under team manager Jimmy Makar,
who has been with Gibbs since the beginning.
Makar was the crew chief when the team got its first victory at
Lowe's in 1994 with Dale Jarrett.
"We've been able to adjust over the years from what they had
then,'' Labonte said. "We've made it work, and maybe I was able to
give Jimmy and the guys better feedback than I do at other
The strange thing about the success of Labonte and Stewart is
they rarely experience it in the same race.
"It's kind of been feast or famine for us,'' Stewart said.
"Normally, both of us aren't really good here at the same time.
But it's been that way at Atlanta, too.''