Bobby Labonte Wins Sunday's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 At Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sunday, March 9, 2003
Bobby Labonte became the winningest active driver at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, taking the checkered flag in the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500, his sixth win at the Georgia track.
Labonte surpassed Bill Elliott, who has five wins in points races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his last in 1992 (he also won the Winston in 1986, a non-points race that was held that year in Atlanta).
¿I don¿t know what it is about this place ¿ I just like it here,¿ Labonte said. ¿It¿s just one of those places, and I have a good feel for it.¿
Jeff Gordon finished second and Dale Earnhardt Jr. third, but neither one had the power to keep up with Labonte. Gordon nearly passed Labonte on the final restart, but Labonte held his ground, retaking the lead and then taking off from the field.
¿That 24 (Gordon), he just kept on us,¿ Labonte said. ¿That son-of-a-gun was so fast.¿
But not fast enough. With 13 laps remaining, Gordon went low and slipped ahead of Labonte, trying to squeeze him up. But Labonte held strong and barely tapped Gordon, who wiggled as Labonte sped past him for the final time.
¿We passed him, got the lead ¿ we just couldn¿t hold it,¿ Gordon said. ¿Bobby was just super strong. I knew I could keep trying to hold him off, but I¿d just wreck us.¿
Labonte has won 6 of the last 13 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but this was his first win at the high-banked track since the fall of 2001. That three-race drought nearly matched his longest winless streak at Atlanta (four races, fall 1999-2001) since earning his first victory in the fall of 1996.
Gordon¿s second-place finish was his seventh Top-10 finish in the last nine races at Atlanta. A three-time winner, Gordon said he wasn¿t disappointed about finishing as the runner-up.
¿What a great day ¿ I¿m real happy with that finish. To come up from 30th and drive up the way we did was great,¿ Gordon said. ¿When Bobby Labonte has a car that¿s capable of winning, he drives it for all it¿s worth. I think people think of him as this calm conservative guy but nobody¿s any hungrier than he is.¿
Earnhardt Jr. finished in the Top 10 for the fourth straight race at Atlanta but still hasn¿t been able to pick up that elusive first win at the track his father dominated.
¿I don¿t think I really had anything for the 18 or the 24 when they were in front,¿ Earnhardt Jr. said.