Gibbs driver(s) owns Lowe's
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 or testing.
"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 weekend.''
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 tracks.''
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.''
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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