B. Labonte, Harvick Prepare For Atlanta With Kentucky Speedway Test
Last season's NASCAR Winston Cup Atlanta race champions Bobby Labonte and Kevin Harvick plotted their return to Victory Lane this Sunday during a two-day test session at Kentucky Speedway.
Labonte, who won the 2001 fall event in Hampton, Ga., owns the circuit's second-best record on the track. In just 19 starts, he has driven to 10 top-five and 11 top-10 finishes on the 1.5-mile quad-oval. He enters the week carrying momentum from a 12th place finish in Martinsville last week and a second-place finish in Charlotte two weeks ago.
"I feel like even before the last two weeks, we rounded a corner," Labonte said. "So, going into the next four races we're hoping to be a little more competitive than we have been."
The 11-year Winston Cup Series veteran split time testing the Pontiac he will race this Sunday and the Chevrolet he will drive for Joe Gibbs Racing next season. He enters the week 17th in the series points standings after registering a win in the circuit's spring race at Martinsville, five top-five and six top-10 finishes through 32 weeks of the season.
"We ran the Atlanta car for a few laps and shook it down," Labonte said from the driver's seat of his 2003 Chevrolet. "Nothing we're learning here today (day two of the test) can probably apply (to Atlanta) as much as it will to next year. Hopefully, we've already figured out what we need to apply for this weekend."
Labonte described the current season as the most challenging of his NASCAR Winston Cup career. So far, 2002 has seen him finish outside the top-11 for the first time since driving for Joe Gibbs, an announcement that the team will switch car manufacturers, and news that his crew chief and friend of 11 years, Jimmy Makar, will move from the pit box to the Gibbs Racing front office in 2003.
"Even the first couple years weren't like this," Labonte said. "It's been a tough time, so the best thing we can do is finish the year real strong and look forward to next year."
Harvick, who enters the week 22nd in the series points standings, looks to score his second win of 2002 at a track where he claimed one of the closest wins in NASCAR Winston Cup history in last season. Harvick finished third to Labonte in the 2001 fall race at Atlanta and 22nd in the track's spring race this season.
Harvick's chances of victory may be somewhat diminished after the chassis he was preparing to run this weekend was damaged during a late practice accident. Harvick was not injured during the incident that was attributed to a blown tire.
~ Kentucky Speedway ~