Talladega Superspeedway can make or break a driver in a matter of a millisecond. It has been feast or famine for 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion driver Bobby Labonte, who has one win from the pole (4/26/98), six top-five, 13 top-10 finishes and has led 154 laps at the 2.66 tri-oval.
Labonte has many fond memories of the place, but one of his biggest highlights was snatching the lead from his brother with two laps to go in the 1998 Diehard 500 and not looking back.
“My brother and I were never really rivals, but it felt really good to finally win at a track over a mile-and-a-half that day,” Labonte said. “I’m really looking forward to Talladega. We had a strong run last weekend at Dover and we want to keep the momentum going.”
Talladega is one race that is up for grabs and any of the 43 drivers have a shot at winning. Labonte and his JTG Daugherty Racing team enter the track with SCOTT Products on the hood of the No. 47 Toyota following a strong run at Dover International Speedway that resulted in a 14th-place finish. According to crew chief Brian Burns, his driver’s confidence is at its highest levels this season following the run.
“The driver’s morale and confidence is brimming and he is very comfortable at superspeedways and we are looking forward to seeing him race this weekend because he has always been capable of pulling off big finishes at these type of tracks,” Burns said. “I can honestly say that we were disappointed for the first time in our top-15 finish last weekend at Dover because we had a top-10 car. Bobby had a problem with the front end shaking violently and he had to pit under green. We were seventh, the last car on the lead lap when that happened. It feels really good that we were very competitive and we are looking forward to seeing what Bobby can do at Talladega.”
Burns is a hard worker and modest crew chief that has done a solid job stepping up into the role midseason. Not only is his driver’s psyche in a good place, so is his.
“I’m pretty happy after last weekend,” Burns said. “We’re seeing improvements each week. Now, this weekend the pressure is off of me because this is a driver’s track. You bring what you unload and it’s really up to your driver out there to get the job done. This weekend as a crew chief I’ll be enjoying watching what our driver does.”
There have been 86 races at Talladega with 35 pole winners, 41 race winners and 13 of those races were won from the pole. In the most recent Talladega race (5/6/12) won by Brad Keselowski, there were 33 lead changes and 17 leaders with a 0.304 margin of victory. Labonte was mixing it up in the top 15 that day during the Aaron’s 499 before incurring problems with a smoke-filled cabin and later a flat right-rear tire, which took him out of contention resulting in a 21st-place finish. His crew chief is hoping for better luck this time around.
“We’re bringing car number 237 sponsored by SCOTT Products that we raced at the first Talladega,” Burns said. “Bobby was doing a great job until we had a problem with the exhaust and then a flat tire. It was just bad luck. We’re bringing the same car because we were comfortable with it the last time.”
JTG Daugherty Racing PR