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Labonte back in form with top-3 finish
By BRANT JAMES
Published July 19, 2005
Bobby Labonte had watched from afar as red-hot teammate Tony Stewart habitated the front of the field for the last five weeks. It felt awfully good to join him on Sunday in the New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway.
A week after deflecting printed reports he would leave Joe Gibbs Racing because of poor performance, the 2000 Nextel Cup champion produced just his second top five and fourth top 10 of the season in finishing third.
"The big thing is for the guys who work on the car week in and week out and keeping their head up when we have bad finishes or bad runs," said Labonte, who lost by .027 to Jimmie Johnson May 29 at Charlotte. "Having a positive attitude is a big thing. We've had good cars - not cars to win, of course - but cars that were competitive if we would have had track position. With the wrecks, blown motors and my mistakes, that's the first half of the year."
Twelfth in driver points last year, Labonte, 41, is currently 23rd.
Stewart's three wins and five top fives in five races looked like a one-man effort until Sunday, as if the 2002 champion was overcoming what was an otherwise off season at Gibbs. But with Labonte's finish, it appears the three-car team (which includes Jason Leffler ) may finally be figuring out something Roush Racing and Hendrick Motorsports hit on earlier this season.
Roush and Hendrick combined to win 13 of the first 15 races before Stewart won three of the last four and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won two weeks ago at Chicago.
"It was awesome," Stewart said of Labonte's finish. "Bobby switched his radio to my channel and congratulated me. I asked him where he finished because I couldn't see and he said he finished third, which was the best news all day. It's finally showing that it's not just one of us that can do it. It shows the package we brought was solid. Bobby and I have two totally different driving styles and so that felt good for both of us to make this package work."
TURN AROUND: Tampa resident and defending Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais was frustrated with his early season luck, though he entered Sunday's first Grand Prix of Edmonton leading Paul Tracy by 15 in driver points. He had to be happy at the end of the day, as he remained trouble-free and passed the wreckage Justin Wilson and A.J. Allmendinger late to win for the first time since the season-opening Grand Prix of Long Beach.
"We just pretty much collected ourselves today and just made a mistake-free race, just took the benefits of everybody's mistakes," Bourdais said. "It's too bad, but that's the way it is."
Bourdais improved his points lead on Tracy to 21.
"We would like to finish ahead of Sebastien," said Tracy, who finished third. "But it seems like he has a golden horseshoe up his butt right now."
DOABLE?: Bourdais favors Sebring being added to the Champ Car schedule because he loves the historic track. It also holds sentimental value as the place he won his job with Newman/Haas Racing in 2003 during a preseason test. He went on to win the pole in the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and become one of the series' top drivers.
Bourdais just isn't sure it makes sense to run on the same weekend as the 12 Hours of Sebring American Le Mans Series race, however.
"I think it would be a great initiative, but the problem with that is the schedule," he said. "The start of the race is quite early, that is the first thing. The second thing being by the time you get to Sunday, everybody is either drunk or gone. And that would be the biggest obstacle to the race, is being able to put on a decent show at an appropriate time. You would have to race around 9 o'clock in the morning on Saturday, or maybe Friday and we would not have the same kind of crowd."
The 2006 Champ Car scheduled should be announced in August.
SPARK PLUGS: A U.S. District Court judge granted a summary judgment ruling that Bill Davis Racing did not violate its agreement with Daimler-Chrysler when he joined Toyota's NASCAR Trucks series program in 2002. Still at issue is whether Davis passed confidential technical data to Toyota. No trial date has been set. ... Champ Car announced a three-day total of 200,052 at the inaugural Edmonton Grand Prix at the temporary Finning International Raceway airport course. ... NAPA auto parts officials on Monday refused to comment on their future NASCAR sponsorship plans now that Michael Waltrip announced his departure from Dale Earnhardt Inc. next season.