Iron man Labonte denies move rumors

On Motor Sports

July 18, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

You can't keep a good rumor down, but Winston Cup driver Terry Labonte is trying.

The word flying around the garages recently has been that Labonte, who has driven for Rick Hendrick the past six years, may be moving to the Robert Yates team.

"Unfortunately, rumors do get started," said Labonte, a two-time Winston Cup champion who last won the title while driving for Hendrick in 1996. "But, really, there is no fact there. I have one more year on my contract with Hendrick and one more year on my contract with Kellogg's, and right now we're negotiating to extend it.

"There is absolutely no truth to it. I've never even spoken to Robert Yates, though there are no doubts that he has great race teams."

The reasons for the rumors are twofold.

One, there has been talk all season that Kenny Irwin, who won Rookie of the Year last season with Yates, is on the way out; and two, Labonte, though eighth in points, has had a disappointing year.

He has just one victory this season, but it isn't really the lack of winning that has worried the team. Labonte has never been a big winner of races. In fact, his 21 career wins have been thinly spread across his 21-year career. He has never won more than three races in any one season, and he has only done that twice, in 1994 and 1995. In his championship seasons, 1984 and 1996, he won just twice each time.

But Labonte's strength always has been his ability to be near the front at the finish.

He is stock car racing's Cal Ripken. His iron-man performance has encompassed starting a record 620 straight races and compiling 269 top-10 finishes. But only five of those top finishes have come in the 18 starts this season.

"We're probably not quite as good as I thought we'd be, but you never know what's going to happen," Labonte said. "The most disappointing thing to me is that we've lacked consistency."

The Texan said the Hendrick teams -- Labonte's, Jeff Gordon's and Wally Dallenbach's -- are in the process of working more closely in the race shop and that results should become more noticeable later this season and next.

"All the cars are built a little different, but we're trying to get them closer in nature so that the [right] setups can work for all of us."

Holl update

Diane Holl, CART's only female technical director, and her boss, Steve Horne, who runs the team of 1998 CART Rookie of the Year Tony Kanaan, returned to getting their hands dirty last week with good results.

Kanaan had his best finish of the season, sixth.

"Our young engineers got into a few problems where they got a little lost," Holl said. "So we decided to go one step back to where Steve and I do the basic engineering, as we did last year, and the younger engineers do the testing."

Nuts and bolts

Cecil County Dragway in North East is host to Popular Hot Rodding magazine's National Street Car Association Shootout from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.

Among those competing are: Nitrous Pro Mod; Pro Street, Outlaw Street, Super Street, Limited Street, Modified Street and EZ Street classes; and Pro Nostalgia and Nostalgia Super Stock classes. Information: 410-287-6280.

The National Import Racing Association will conduct the Mid-Atlantic National at Maryland International Raceway in Budds Creek next Sunday. Information: 301-884-9833. The track is host to the all-Harley Drag Racing & Rally Association Mid-Atlantic National at 1 p.m. today.

Anyone up early this morning and not into drag racing can take a drive to Nazareth, Pa., for the NAPA Auto Care 200 truck race at 1: 30 p.m. and is followed by the Burnham Boilers 100 NASCAR Busch North series event.

Local NHRA driver Larry Kopp, who won the sanctioning body's first Pro Truck series title last season, is eighth -- 333 points out of first.

Ford should do a new commercial about being "built Ford tough" and feature Mark Martin.

Two weeks ago, he broke a wrist, knee and rib at Daytona but still completed the Pepsi 400 the next night and then, after surgery on his knee and with a cast on his wrist, finished sixth in Loudon, N.H.

Last week, instead of resting, he went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to test his car for the Aug. 7 Brickyard 400. "He's remarkable," said chief mechanic Jimmy Fennig. "He's that tough."

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George doesn't just create racing events (the Indy Racing League is his baby), he competes. He and his son, USAC regular Eddie Carpenter, were to race in this weekend's Summer Sizzle '99 USAC midget competition at Indianapolis' 16th Street Speedway.

OK, quick, name the top five drivers in Formula One: 1. Mika Hakkinen, 40 points; 2. Michael Schumacher, 32; 3. Eddie Irvine, 32; 4. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, 26; 5. David Coulthard, 22.

Too hard? OK, quick, the top five in the IRL: 1. Scott Goodyear, 164; 2. Jeff Ward, 149; 3. Greg Ray, 131; 4. Eddie Cheever Jr., 121; 5. Scott Sharp, 109.

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