By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 10, 2002
HAMPTON, Ga. -- Former Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte has confidence in the motors in his No. 18 Pontiac, but does not expect NASCAR's one-engine rule to last.
"I think they'll change it and go back to the way it used to be," Labonte said. "They're trying to be like the Busch series, but this ain't the Busch series. We run 500 miles; they run 300 miles."
The one-engine rule gets its first 500-mile test today in the MBNA America 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The rule, intended to cut costs, requires Winston Cup teams to qualify, practice and race the same engine.
The penalty for changing engines after qualifying is the same as for using a backup car: Drivers must drop to the back of the 43-car field for the start.
Matt Kenseth, whose engine failed near the end of his qualifying run, will start from the back today. He qualified 32nd. In the previous two races, each of which was 400 miles, only Kurt Busch at Rockingham was affected by the rule.
"I think it will be who blows them up, not how many," Labonte said.
"If Jeff Gordon blows up or Ricky Rudd or Dale Jarrett, if some of those guys blow up a couple times in a row, that's going to be it."
PHOTO FINISH: Damon Lusk won the rain-shortened ARCA Pork the Other White Meat 400, nipping Chad Blount by .001 seconds as a caution flag came out with 45 laps left at AMS.
Though the cars raced one more lap, under ARCA rules, the running order was frozen when the caution came out. That occurred just before Lusk and Blount reached the stripe on Lap118.
It was the closest finish in the series' 50-year history.
"I was looking at Chad thinking we were going to touch," said Lusk, driver of the No. 22 Chevrolet.
"We just were lucky enough to beat him back."
It was Lusk's first ARCA victory.
FIGHTING WORDS: Team owner Ray Evernham, who runs Dodges, has no sympathy for General Motors teams claiming their Chevrolets and Pontiacs are aerodynamically disadvantaged.
"I believe the Pontiacs have got the tallest spoiler. I believe they've got the longest nose. I believe Chevrolet has still got their 21/2 inches, and they've got Jeff Gordon. If I was those guys, I'd be keeping quiet working on my pit strategy. I'll trade 'em three rules changes for Jeff Gordon."
NUTS AND BOLTS: Starting position is not critical at AMS. Three of the past five winners at the track came from 35th or worse. ... The spring race has produced the closest finish of the season the past two years: Dale Earnhardt by .01 seconds over Labonte in 2000 and Kevin Harvick by .006 over Gordon in 2001. ... Today's purse is nearly $3.6-million.