Bobby Labonte and his No. 43 Dodge seem to have made significant gains in qualifying.
Labonte would still like to see his finishes begin to match his starts on a more regular basis.
Labonte qualified third fastest Thursday night for Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, his third top-10 qualifying effort in the past four weeks and best start since the August 2006 race at Bristol, Tenn.
During his recent run of qualifying success, Labonte hasn’t seen the same result in the race. In his last three Nextel Cup Series races, he’s finished 27th, 42nd and 35th and crashed in the past two events.
“Obviously, one lap of qualifying is different than 500 laps or 400 laps of racing. We probably excel a little bit more in qualifying than we do in the race. We need to be a little bit better for 500 or 400 miles,” said Labonte.
“We’re getting stronger as we go. Our engines are getting better. Every team has the same 85 percent as everyone else has. It’s that last 10 or 15 percent that makes a difference and is hard to get.”
Labonte has seen big strides in improvement this season, much of it coming since the addition of crew chief Doug Randolph in mid-August.
Already Labonte is on pace to give Petty Enterprises its best finish in points since John Andretti finished 17th in the 1999 season. Entering Saturday’s race, Labonte is 18th in points with three top-10 finishes.
“It’s a little bit of a game of confidence. That’s a big part of our sport. When you gain it or get it through the strengths of your team and try to figure out weaknesses and try to make them stronger, you’re more confident when in the race car,” Labonte said.
“All that stuff really helps out. Having Doug in the mix the past few weeks has been great for me. We’ve known each other a long time. He’s a really good communicator with me.
“When you have confidence you just sit in the car and go. It’s a whole lot better than when you’re always wondering, ‘What’s it going to be like this week?’ ”
While neither Petty Enterprises car is competing for the series championship this season, Labonte and teammate Kyle Petty still have objectives.
“Every team has a battle to fight. We always want to get better and be better than before,” Labonte said.
“We know we’ve made progress, but it’s slowed a little bit. It’s time to get back on track and be even better.”