Gibbs teammates on a roll and at the front

Posted: Sunday, June 15, 2003

BROOKLYN, Mich. The Sirius Satellite 400 will be a first for Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart.

Both have won poles and races, each has a Winston Cup championship, but Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway will be the first time the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates start side-by-side on the front row.

Being up front is appropriate for Labonte and Stewart, both of whom have bounced back from a stretch of disappointing races to get into the championship hunt.

Labonte, who will start from the pole, had five straight finishes of second or third before running 17th last Sunday at Pocono a race in which he says the team never quite found the right setup.

Before he got on a roll, Labonte had fallen to 15th in the points. Now, he's fourth, trailing series leader and defending race winner Matt Kenseth by 287 points.

Stewart, the defending series champion, went through a miserable stretch from late March to the end of May, finishing better than 25th only once in seven races.

After being as high as second in points early in the season, Stewart found himself 20th after an engine failure relegated him to a 40th-place finish in Charlotte. Now, after running fourth at Dover and taking his first win of the year at Pocono, Stewart has jumped to 13th and is 96 points behind eighth-place Rusty Wallace.

''It's just the fact that it has come together for both teams at the same time, more than anything else,'' Labonte said. ''Everybody always works hard to make sure that everything is right, but there are so many things that can happen that won't allow it.

''Yesterday was a situation where we were able to put fast laps up for both teams.''

Stewart said part of the reason for the progress is that the crews from his No. 20 Chevrolet and Labonte's No. 18 Monte Carlo work well together.

''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,'' he said. ''When one of us is on a roll like that, the other one seems to find a way of getting on a roll and that keeps us both up at the level where we want to be.

''If something happens and one of us is having a bad day, the other one is at that level, and they can say, 'Here's what we're doing' and it helps us out. I feel like it's a combination that has worked since we started as teammates in 1999.''

There seems to be little competitive jealousy between the teammates. When Labonte knocked Stewart off the pole on Friday, both were able to smile and joke about it.

''Yesterday, I was pretty comfortable,'' Stewart said. ''I knew Bobby was probably going to get by us, but it didn't bother me. I just didn't want anyone else to get by.

''On days that I run second, if Bobby beats me, then I'm happy. If someone else beats us, I'm not so happy. I think we both feel that way. We both want to win races, but we are a team.''

This is the first time since former Washington Redskins coach Gibbs went to a two-car team in 1999 that his drivers have swept the front row in qualifying.

''It's kind of another chapter in the book and another piece of what, two years down the road, will be trivia,'' Labonte said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., second in the standings, 176 points behind Kenseth, will start third, alongside Kurt Busch and just in front of former series champions Terry Labonte, Bobby's older brother, and Jeff Gordon.

Kenseth qualified 21st and will have some work to do to get to the front.

''If it goes green all day, like it did a few years ago, track position is real important,'' Kenseth said. ''But starting back there in a normal Michigan race, with (cautions), it's not hard to overcome. It's a real easy track to pass at.''

Jourdain stripped of Champ Car pole, Carpentier gets it

MONTEREY, Calif. Patrick Carpentier was vaulted into his first pole of the CART season after Michel Jourdain's fastest lap was disallowed Saturday because his car was underweight.

Jourdain will start 13th place on the grid Sunday at Laguna Seca, based on his Friday qualifying speed of 113.524 mph. His lap Saturday was ruin at 115.875.

''We are shocked and baffled at this development,'' Jourdain's team said in a statement. ''The crew weighed the Gigante car just prior to qualifying and the car was overweight. The numbers just simply don't add up.

''We are currently investigating the discrepancy in the weight of the car.''

Carpentier, fifth in the CART standings, initially was pleased just to move up to third on the grid after qualifying fifth Friday.

''For some reason with us, the seasons always started slow,'' he said. ''I am looking forward to the rest of the season.''

Rain cancels Pikes Peak qualifying; Kanaan will start on pole

FOUNTAIN, Colo. Torrential rain washed out qualifying Saturday, giving IRL points leader Tony Kanaan the pole for the Honda Indy 225.

The starting order for the race Sunday was determined by combined practice speeds at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Helio Castroneves will start second.

In the second practice session, earlier Saturday on the 1-mile oval, Kanaan turned a lap at 180.232 mph. While it bettered the track record of 179.874 set by Greg Ray in qualifying in 2000, it does not count as an official record because it happened in practice and not in qualifying.

Castroneves had a lap of 179.800, also in the second practice session.

''I'm still learning the track,'' insisted Kanaan, making his debut at Pikes Peak after racing on the CART circuit the previous five years. ''We made some changes after the first practice session, and obviously the car was pretty good.

''But this place isn't easy at all. It's very fast, with bumps that can trick you. I almost got caught in the morning session out of Turn 1 because I hit a bump I wasn't expecting.''

Felipe Giaffone posted a top lap of 179.303 mph and will start third. Giaffone paced the morning practice session with a lap of 178.125.

Defending champion Gil de Ferran will start fourth after a practice lap of 179.251.

Tora Takagi, who earlier in the day was placed on probation until the end of the year and deducted 23 race points by the IRL for overly aggressive driving that caused a crash in the Bombardier 500 last week at Texas Motor Speedway, will start fifth.

Takagi had a best practice speed of 179.084. Scott Dixon will start sixth after turning a lap at 178.862.

Dario Franchitti, returning to racing after being sidelined 10 weeks with a broken vertebra in his back as a result of an off-track motorcycle accident, earned the seventh starting position at 178.650. Kenny Brack was eighth at 178.301.

Kanaan, who won at Phoenix International Raceway on March 23 and was a close second to Al Unser Jr. last weekend in Texas, predicted a ''really tough, really competitive race. Traffic is going to be important. And pit stops. The person who makes the least mistakes is going to win this one.''

Light rain prompted IRL officials to shorten an Infiniti Pro Series race which was scheduled to end about 30 minutes before the start of IndyCar qualifying.

Officials delayed the start of qualifying, then scrubbed it as rain intensified.

It marked the second time this season that rain forced cancellation of IRL qualifying. It also happened in Motegi, Japan, in April.

Asked if he intentionally tried to post a fast practice time because of the possibility of a rainout, Castroneves said, ''Nobody expected it to rain. It's a little bit disappointing but it's not the end of the world. The points that count are (Sunday).''



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