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NASCAR Bobby Labonte feels frustration



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



He's competed only once in six races this season.

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Bobby Labonte is frustrated, but at least he still can joke about a season that so far has been anything but fun.

He notes that older brother Terry, a two-time NASCAR champion, is running a limited schedule this year and next before stepping out of the cockpit for good.

"Don't be confused," Bobby Labonte said. "He's on the retirement deal, running 10 races. I just feel like I am because I've only run one race in six. He's almost higher in points than I am, running two races."

The 2000 series champion was referring to the fact that he has managed to complete only one Nextel Cup race so far this year, and goes into Sunday's Samsung/Radio Shack 500 37th in the season points.

Season started poorly

The season-opening Daytona 500 was a hint of things to come when the engine on Labonte's No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet blew after just 14 laps, leaving him last in the 43-car field.

A week later, everything looked somewhat better after Labonte completed all the laps on the way to a 13th-place finish at California Speedway. Not exactly the stuff championships are made of, but a step forward.

Since then, nothing has looked very good for Labonte.

"Daytona was just one race, but it was frustrating," Labonte explained. "And then we go to the second race, then the third race and the fourth race, fifth race, sixth race ... It's been one of those weird situations."

Last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, Labonte was strong enough to lead twice in the race. But it happened again -- his engine blowing up and relegating him to 33rd.

"It's like, 'When are we going to be able to finish that 500 miles or that 500 laps?' It gets really frustrating and it wears on you," Labonte said.

The elder Labonte, also entered in Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway, sat alongside his brother, listening to the litany of failure and shaking his head in sympathy before speaking up.

Brother knows what it's like

"In 1985, I blew up seven weekends in a row," Terry said, referring to the season after his first championship. "I was leading the points at the beginning of that stretch. We were no longer the points leaders at the end of that stretch. It happens."

Bobby was hoping for a lot more coming off a season in which he failed to win at least one race for the first time in 10 years and finished outside the top 10 for only the second time in eight seasons. His ride with the Gibbs team doesn't appear in any jeopardy, but he and his team could sure use a good race Sunday to get things going in the right direction before the current hole gets any deeper.

"You've got to be able to do your best," Bobby said. "That's all you can do. If something happens, it happens. You just don't want it to happen a lot.

"If we're still doing our best and not losing focus on it, then we'll be OK."

Trying for turn around

This would be the perfect track for the younger Labonte to get things turned around.

Both Labontes were born in Corpus Christi, Texas, and even though Bobby left for North Carolina when he was a teenager, he is still a Texas favorite and feels a bond with his native state.

"The fans here are just incredible," Bobby said. "I feel like I have been adopted in a way since we moved from Corpus Christi."

Now he's back, and Sunday's race pays a lot more money than either of those long-ago events. But Bobby Labonte is far more interested in a good finish than the possible payoff in dollars.

"Let's just hope we can find a way to get going in the right direction," he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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