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Eldora Speedway

Notes: Labonte trying out Longhorn at Prelude

June 8, 2011, 6:00 pm
By Joshua Joiner
DirtonDirt.com staff writer
Bobby Labonte (right) and one of his dirt racers, Earl Pearson Jr. (thesportswire.net)
Bobby Labonte (right) and one of his dirt racers, Earl Pearson Jr. (thesportswire.net)

ROSSBURG, Ohio (June 8) — When Bobby Labonte hits Eldora Speedway to compete in the seventh annual Prelude to the Dream Wednesday night, he’ll not only be making laps in a Dirt Late Model for the first time since last year’s Prelude, but he’ll also be making his first laps behind the wheel of the new Longhorn Chassis that his Bobby Labonte Racing team debuted last August. | Complete Dream Week XVII coverage

While the team’s drivers, Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series regulars Earl Pearson Jr. and Brad Neat, have been up-and-down in the new race car, Labonte is confident in his ride.

“I know that coming here with the new chassis that there has been some element of a learning curve that they’ve been going through so we brought one of the cars that Earl’s been running this year,” Labonte, the driver of the No. 47 Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, said prior to Wednesday night’s action at Eldora. “You’re always trying something different on it and we just haven’t found that sweet spot for it yet. But they’re doing a great job.”

While he’s hoping for a strong run Wednesday night, Labonte, who finished 12th in last year’s Prelude, said he won’t judge the quality of his race team’s new car based on his performance.

“I don’t know what it’ll do for me,” Labonte said. “It probably doesn’t matter whether it’s new or old. It’s kinda like my golf game; doesn’t matter if it’s a right or left-handed club. But I’m excited. We’ve got a motor that isn’t real fast, but if the track slicks off I think we’ll be good.”

Pearson, a four-time Lucas Oil Series champion, is confident in the Longhorn Labonte will drive Wednesday night, especially after he scored a runner-up finishing in it the last time it was ran, which was a Lucas Oil Series race at Roaring Knob Motosports Complex in April. But Pearson isn’t putting any pressure on his boss.

“He hasn’t had any time to test in so it’s all new for him,” Pearson said. “I told him just to go out there and make some laps and have fun, no pressure. We’ll see what we can do.

“This is a car we built earlier this year and we run it a couple of times. We got a second place on it last time we raced. It’s no pressure on him because he hasn’t run it, but we know it’s a good piece.”

Pearson, who plans to compete in a brand new Longhorn in the $100,000-to-win Dream XVII this weekend, hopes the team is able to use Labonte’s run Wednesday night as a test session to get some setup notes for the weekend.

“Hopefully Bobby can have some fun and do good, but we’ll also try to learn some different things and see if we can get better for the Dream.” Pearson said. “This will be the first time at Eldora Speedway for a Longhorn Chassis. We’ve got our work cut out for us all weekend, but maybe we can get started on a good note tonight.”

Dillon brings experience

Austin Dillon may be making his Prelude debut Wednesday night, but he’s definitely not a newcomer to Dirt Late Model racing or Eldora Speedway.

The 21-year-old grandson of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress has raced Late Models on a limited basis for the past few years, with one of his career highlights coming last September at Eldora when he set fast time for the World 100.

But Dillon doesn’t think he has much of advantage Wednesday night with hot and dry weather likely producing different track conditions than the Eldora surface he excelled on last year. He also knows his competition is pretty good.

“It’s middle of the summer so it’s gonna be a little different track conditions,” Dillon said. “Tony (Stewart is) an unbelievable dirt racer and so is Kenny Schrader. And you’ve got guys out here that can do the same thing.

“I’ve been able to run my Late Model quite a bit. It’s gonna be fun to get back here to Eldora. I love this place; it’s one of my favorite tracks, especially when it’s hooked up. It looks dry out there right now, but hopefully it’ll moisten-up for us.”

While the young driver is modest about his skill as a Late Model racer, other Prelude competitors have looked to him for advice in preparation for the charity race.

“I’ve talked to Ricky (Carmichael) and (Ron) Hornaday as much as I can,” Dillon said of the fellow NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers who will compete at Eldora Wednesday night. “Those are my truck buddies and I’m trying to help them as much as I can. We went and tested at Wytheville (Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va.) with Ricky, weren’t able to test with Ron, but with Ricky he did a great job. He learns quick and I’m sure he’ll have a great time out here tonight.”

Busch committed to Bloomquist

With Kyle Busch Motorsports hiring two-time World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion Josh Richards to drive for the team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, you might think the team’s owner would choose to drive a car built by Richards’s father at the Prelude.

But Kyle Busch won’t be driving one of Mark Richards’s Rocket Chassis Wednesday night. Instead, he’s sticking with the Bloomquist Race Car he’s driven in previous years.

“Josh asked me a little bit about it, but I told him I was already committed with Bloomquist,” Busch said prior to Wednesday night’s action. “Scott’s been awesome to work with while we’re here. I enjoy being able to work with him. I know he has really good cars that win a lot of races throughout the year.

“I just like the way that Bloomquist cars drive and I have a relationship with him and have been driving for him for a couple of years now so it seems kinda familiar.”

While he likes driving Bloomquist’s race car, that doesn’t make adjusting to the car for the once-a-year event any easier, especially with limited practice time.

“They give you two three-lap warm ups then qualifying,” Busch said. “I wish it was more like five or six. That would give me a little more time to think about things. But they hurry up so much here that you really don’t have a whole lot of time to worry about what you’re doing or to change anything. You pretty much have to go back to remembering what you did last year and it’s hard to do that.”

After coming close in previous events, Busch is hoping to finally break through and win the Prelude this year.

“I finished second, third and fourth here and one other time I struggled really bad, so I’m hoping that tonight can be the night,” Busch said.

Kahne-Madden connection

Kasey Kahne will make his fifth appearance in the Prelude Wednesday night, but he’ll do it behind the wheel of a new race car.

Kahne, who has worked with Dirt Late Model driver Eric Jacobsen in years past, will drive a car normally piloted by Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., this year. Kahne says the two have gotten along well in their limited interaction leading up to the event, and he’s looking forward to driving Madden’s car.

“He’s made it really easy,” Kahne said of Madden. “I just met him about 30 minutes ago for the first time in person. He’s been really cool over the phone, talking about the seat and the car and things like that. The car’s really nice. I know he’s awesome as far as Late Models go, so it’s pretty cool for me to be able to drive for someone like that.”

“I feel like we can run pretty good. We’ve been pretty decent in every one that we’ve been in so far. It just hasn’t quite worked out in the main events. We’ll see how it all goes tonight. I think we should run pretty good.”

Madden is just as excited for the event, and is confident Kahne will make a good showing in his equipment.

“We haven’t spent much time together, but I’ve seen him drive here and I know he can definitely get up on the wheel,” Madden said. “I’m excited about having a car with him in it. I’m looking forward to working with him and trying to get him up front.”

Stewart is plenty hungry

After winning the Prelude in 2008 and 2009, Eldora Speedway owner Tony Stewart was disappointed when he finished sixth in the event in 2010. That disappointment has given the two-time Sprint Cup Series champion even more motivation to get back in Eldora’s victory lane Wednesday night.

“I don’t like to lose anyway, but after losing last year I’m pretty hungry,” Stewart said. “We’ve haven’t won much this year anyway, so I’m ready to have a night where we can try to get back in victory lane.”

Stewart, who purchased the historic half-mile dirt track from Earl Baltes in 2004, believes that hot and dry weather in the days leading up to this year’s Prelude will make for a slick racing surface, which should help the non-Dirt Late Model regulars.

“I think one of the best races we had was about three years ago when it was really, really slick and it slowed down a lot,” Stewart said. “I think it helped everybody because this is a track that’s pretty intimidating if you haven’t been around her much. Having conditions on a night like to night with the paced slowed down, I think that’s gonna help everybody.”

While slower conditions may help other drivers, Stewart said he’s confident in his chances no matter what the track conditions.

“I can run this place in any conditions, it doesn’t matter,” Stewart said.

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