'Different sport, same feeling'

Gibbs adds racing title to Super Bowl rings

Posted: Thursday, November 16, 2000

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Whether it's the final 30 seconds of a Super Bowl or the final 30 laps of a stock car race, Joe Gibbs never gets too comfortable with winning.

As his driver, Bobby Labonte, made the final passes around the Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday to clinch the team's first NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship, Gibbs nervously paced pit road the same way he used to stalk the sidelines.

As a football coach, he used to hold his breath as the Washington Redskins ran out the clock in all three of his Super Bowl victories. He did the same thing Sunday when he won his first stock car championship.

''Different sport,'' he said, ''same feeling.''

Super Bowls were easy compared to becoming a championship car owner on the Winston Cup Series.

Gibbs coached the Redskins for 12 years.

It took him nine years to win his first title in racing.

''I wouldn't trade the Super Bowl for this, but I wouldn't trade this feeling for a Super Bowl, either,'' Gibbs said. ''It's been some long, hard years. We've taken just about every kind of lump, from missing races to finishing 19th (in the point standings) in a season to fighting our guts out trying to win a race.''

Gibbs used a simple formula to win Super Bowl games capping the 1982, 1987 and 1991 seasons: Surround himself with good people and let them do their thing. The same game plan has worked with Labonte's race team.

He put crew chief Jimmy Makar in charge, then stepped back and allowed him to meticulously build a championship race team. Even as Labonte was closing in on the championship last week, Makar was calling the shots.

As the laps evaporated to a precious few at Homestead, Fla., Gibbs suggested his stock car driver take a knee to run out the clock.

It works in football, why not in auto racing, too?

After all, Labonte virtually was assured the Winston Cup Championship in the final 30 laps since his closest competition in the point standings was several laps behind.

So why press his luck while jostling for a top-five finish?

''I climbed (on the tool box) and I went, 'All we've got to do is ride in the back, man. Let's just get back there,' " he told Makar.

Makar, stoic and determined to the very end, looked his boss squarely in the eyes and said, ''We came to race.''

So Labonte raced while Gibbs held his breath. And when it was over, they shared gulps from the same champagne bottle as the celebration that's been years in the making spilled across pit road and onto the main straightaway.

''The thing is, in football if you have a 30-point lead, you can coast,'' Gibbs said. ''In this, you can't coast at all. You don't know what's coming.''

Joe Gibbs Racing knows exactly what to expect at the season-ending NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday. They are champions no matter where they start or where they finish. In fact, they could skip the race something they wouldn't do and still have enough points to beat Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt for a championship worth at least $3 million in postseason bonuses.

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