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Published: Sunday, 6/15/2003

Labonte won't stop working

Bobby Labonte will start today's race on the front row next to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Tony Stewart. It's the 1st front-row sweep for Gibbs Racing. Bobby Labonte will start today's race on the front row next to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Tony Stewart. It's the 1st front-row sweep for Gibbs Racing.

BROOKLYN, Mich. - Bobby Labonte starts on the pole for today's Sirius 400 at Michigan International Speedway. He was faster than everyone else in the qualifying, but not content to let his Interstate Batteries Chevy stand pat.

“We're excited about being on the pole - it's a good place to start,” Labonte said. “Everybody works hard to make sure that everything is right, but there are so many things that can happen that won't allow it. We're still working on some stuff; you try to work on a little bit of everything.”

Labonte said the tweaking goes on until race time, regardless of the starting position.

“It's no different than every weekend. You work on one area and it looks good, but it possibly hurts another area, so you've got to work on it all at the same time,” Labonte said.

Labonte's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Tony Stewart, will start second as the two gave Gibbs his first front-row sweep. Stewart, the defending Winston Cup champion who won last week's race at Pocono, said the competition between teammates is rewarding.

“Bobby and I have finished 1-2 in races, but we've never started that way before, so it's kind of another chapter in the book,” Stewart said. “In my opinion, we are the best team as far as multi-car teams who communicate and share information and work together to make each other better.”

Stewart said Labonte's advantage going into the race is clear-cut.

“He's got something I don't have. If he can do what he did in that one [qualifying] lap, and do it 200 times, then he'll beat everybody. But there's a lot of variables that go into today's race. In qualifying you have one lap and you have to hit your entry twice and hit your exit twice. Sunday you have to do it 400 times.”

Jimmie Johnson, who will start in 11th position on the inside of Row 6 in his Lowe's Chevy, sees the race as a wide-open affair. Johnson said he considers Labonte, Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Michael Waltrip, Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace all as the ones to beat.

“There's been different guys at different times who have been strong, but right now they all look pretty good out here,” Johnson said. “It is going to be interesting to see what the weather does - the weather is going to play a big key. It's a long race and we'll have a lot of time to work on it, but the one problem here is that if you don't have a good car there are so many green-flag runs that you can get way behind and never get back in it.”

Johnson, who won at Charlotte this season and has more than $3 million in winnings in 14 races, said he hopes to shake out of a short slump that had him start on the pole at Pocono last week but finish 12th, and drop from a fifth position at the start at Dover the week before to 38th following a crash.

“We've set our goals high and we want to be one of the cars to beat, and right now we're not the car to beat so we've got a little bit of work ahead of us. There are some races where we've started as the car to beat and wrecked, so maybe this is a good approach to have is to be unexpected and show up when it is time to take the trophy.”

Johnson, a California native who races for Jeff Gordon's team, finished 14th in last year's Sirius 400, and was fifth in the Winston Cup standings in his first full season on the circuit.

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