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Labonte Has Consistency on His Side at Riverside

Times Staff Writer

When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” he never had in mind NASCAR stock cars. Consistency, along the Winston Cup championship trail, is the way to success.

Consider: Bill Elliott has won 5 of 11 races this season. Terry Labonte has won 0 of 11. Who leads? You guessed it. Labonte, with 1,630 points to 1,611.

Labonte, the defending champion from Archdale, N.C., by way of Corpus Christi, Tex., has had nine finishes in the top 10, having failed only once to be running at race’s end. Elliott, on the other hand, has crashed three times and has finished only one race other than the five he won.

The 12th race of the 28-race season, the Budweiser 400, will be run Sunday at Riverside International Raceway. Labonte is also the defending champion in the 400-kilometer (248.9-mile) race. In fact, it was his victory here last June that started him on a streak that led to the championship for Billy Hagan’s team and $713,010 in earnings.

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“It would be a nice place to win my first race this year, too,” Labonte said Thursday as he awaited today’s qualifying at Riverside. “Last year, when we got to Riverside, I hadn’t won a race and I hadn’t won a pole and I was fourth in the points. This year we’re doing better. We haven’t won a race, but we’ve won two poles and we’re ahead in points.”

NASCAR qualifying consists of each driver taking two laps, one car at a time, around Riverside’s twisting, 2.62-mile road course, with the faster of the two laps counting. Qualifying will start at 3 p.m.

“It’s more important at Riverside to qualify up front--in the first two rows, at least--than at the super speedways,” Labonte said. “Riverside is such a one-car track that if you start in the middle of the pack, it’s hard to work your way up to the front. While you’re struggling to get by one car at a time, the leaders are flying off with a clean track. Another thing: If you’re in the middle and someone gets out of shape in the esses, or any of the key corners, you can be in a mess of trouble before you know it.”

The key to a fast lap at Riverside is getting through Turn 9, a long, sweeping right-hander that bends from the backstretch around almost to the start-finish line.

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“We spend more time in that turn than we do in an entire lap at a short track like Bristol,” Labonte said. The track record at Bristol is 17.05 seconds.

Last November, when Labonte won the pole for the Winston Western 500 at Riverside, he came out of the turn too wide and brushed the wall with his left rear wheel. That knocked the front left wheel into the wall, and Labonte literally bounced across the finish line with a speed of 116.714 m.p.h.

The track record is 116.782 by Darrell Waltrip in 1983.


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