By JOANNE KORTH
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 5, 2001
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bobby Labonte considered it an omen when he drew the black-colored car for the International Race of Champions finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Dedicating his performance to the late four-time IROC champion Dale Earnhardt, Labonte roughed up runner-up Tony Stewart five laps from the finish Saturday to win the race and the championship.
"It was all about Dale," said Labonte, who picked up $250,000 for winning the series. "I put a little No. 3 on my car. When you think about Dale, you think about a black car."
Earnhardt won IROC titles in 1990, '95, '99 and 2000 and a series-best 11 races.
Labonte pulled ahead of Stewart down the backstretch of Lap 34, but Stewart fought back on Lap 35, pulling to the outside of Labonte in the short chute between Turns 3 and 4. Labonte kept his foot on the gas, forcing Stewart to smack the wall exiting Turn 4.
"I ran out of real estate," said Stewart, who held on for second in the race and the final standings, 10 points back. "I didn't expect him to do that. We probably picked up a big push, but he ran me right out into the fence."
CART points leader Kenny Brack finished third in the race and the series, a point behind Stewart. It was the best finish for an open-wheel driver since Robby Gordon was second in 1996.
Labonte felt badly about the incident with Stewart, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, but said his car was out of control going through Turn 4.
"It just broke loose," said Labonte, the defending Brickyard 400 and Winston Cup champion. "I thought we were both wrecked because it just slid up. I figured it was going to be major, but it wasn't for me and was for him."