Labonte Loves Winning at Indy

Monday, August 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — With a gentle nudge, one of the most dominating Brickyard 400 drives went for naught. Once Bobby Labonte caught and then slipped past Rusty Wallace, it was all over.

``I know that I had the damndest race I've ever had in my life with Bobby Labonte — 75 laps with him four inches off my bumper,'' Wallace said. ``I felt like I was swatting hornets inside that car the whole time.

Wallace led 110 of the first 145 laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday. But Labonte, the Winston Cup series leader, began his move in Turn 3 of the 146th lap and got alongside Wallace coming off Turn 4. The cars bumped on the front straight and Labonte ducked inside for the lead.

``We both got together. I didn't drive down onto him and he didn't come up into me,'' Wallace said of the late pass that sent Labonte to the checkered flag by a margin of 4.229 seconds. ``I think when you are going that fast, the air tends to pull you together.

``Turn 3 was my worst turn all day, and I knew he could get me. He got under me,'' Wallace said.

It's no consolation, of course, but the 110 laps at the head of the pack gave Wallace a Brickyard 400 record for the most by a non-winner.

The second-place finish by Wallace also denied car owner Roger Penske an 11th victory at Indianapolis. His drivers have won a record 10 Indy 500s.

``I wanted to win the race, but honestly, I wanted to win that doggone race worse for him than I did me,'' Wallace said. ``He was here with his wife and he was on the radio all day long. He was my biggest cheerleader and he was excited, and when I crossed the line and finished second he was cheering and saying, `Great run!' and congratulating the crew.''

Labonte had a cheerleader in his pit, too. Older brother Terry Labonte, still recovering from a July 1 crash at Daytona, decided to bypass the Brickyard 400.

``I guess with Bobby winning the race, it was a good way for it to end,'' Terry Labonte said. ``I watched him the whole race and I was really nervous the last few laps. When he won, I about had tears in my eyes. It was cool.''

By sitting out, Terry Labonte's streak of 655 consecutive races was stopped.

``I think it was a smart decision on his part, because he just wasn't comfortable,'' Bobby Labonte said. ``I would rather he do that. Streaks are just numbers that are going to come to an end. He hasn't had that good of a year so far, but maybe the number that comes up next, which will be No. 1, will be better.''

The younger Labonte, who finished second twice and third once in the past three years, earned $831,225, easily the biggest payday of his career. Wallace took home $310,625 for second and Bill Elliott won $236,475 for third.

The purse was a Brickyard record $6.5 million.

Two-time winner Dale Jarrett, second to Labonte in the series points, was seventh. Ricky Rudd, another former winner, started from the pole and finished 21st. Jeff Gordon, the only other two-time winner in the seven-year history of the race, was 33rd.

``You see the guys who have won this race and you think, `Man, I wish I could be part of it,''' Bobby Labonte said. ``The prestige of this race, the fact that there will be a Formula One race this year on this same track, that's cool.''

Labonte averaged a record 155.912 mph in the race slowed by just two caution flags.

More important, though, it came at Indy.

Asked what impressed him most about the track, Labonte referred to the pre-race ride he took in front of the 320,000 people who jammed the sprawling grandstands.

``It's an awesome feeling riding around this racetrack that slow with all those people,'' he said. ``To me, that's the most special thing about the Brickyard — all the people, all the fans. It's real special.''