Labonte played the hunter to perfection Saturday in the Brickyard 400, stalking Rusty Wallace until it was time to win.
He made his move 15 laps from the end of the 160-lap race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, pulling alongside Wallace and bumping past to take the lead for good.
It was easily the most important of Labonte's 14 wins, and it came as brother Terry failed to start for the first time in 656 races. Terry Labonte's NASCAR record streak ended because of the recurring effects of a concussion from a crash last month.
The usually low-key Labonte jumped out of his car and climbed onto the top, throwing his arms in the air in jubilation.
He then jumped to the ground and hugged teammate Tony Stewart, crew chief Jimmy Makar, his wife Donna and just about anybody on the team he could get his hands on.
"I can't think of a better day," the nearly breathless winner said. "My brother, I wish he was out there. And to beat a great driver like Rusty Wallace, it was just awesome."
Terry, who watched the race from the pits while his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was driven by Todd Bodine, spent the day wearing headphones and keeping track of his brother and his own car.
"It was more frustrating than disappointing watching the race," said the elder Labonte, who hadn't missed a race since the beginning of the 1979 season. "I kind of looked at it like I had gone 22 years without missing a day of work and I was still at work, just doing a different job."
Did his brother's win take some of the sting out of the difficult day?
"I about had tears in my eyes," Terry said. "I was loving it, watching my brother win and Todd pass a guy on the last lap to finish 15th."
Bobby, seven years Terry's junior, said, "He'll be back and it will be the start of a lot more."
The victory ended a run of frustration for Bobby. Despite holding the lead in the Winston Cup standings virtually all season, he hadn't won since February in Rockingham, N.C.
It also gave Labonte the second NASCAR major of his career, having won the Coca-Cola 600 in 1995. The 36-year-old Texan had ben agonizingly close in the Brickyard, finishing second last year and in 1997 and third in 1998.
"This is one of those races you dream about," he said. "Like I said, a lot of things happened this week. I'm just glad it turned out like this.
"Rusty put up great fight. I was better than him in turn two and at times I could outrun him a little bit better than other times. I got by him and he gave me a big shove, I guess that helped me out."
Wallace dominated most of the race, hardly thrilling a crowd estimated at 320,000 by leading lap after lap on the 2 1/2-mile oval.
But Labonte's Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiac was never far behind Wallace's Penske Racing South Ford.
Wallace, the 1989 series champion and winner of 51 races was trying hard to give owner Roger Penske a record 11th Indy victory the first 10 came in open-wheel cars in the Indianapolis 500.
He made his final pit stop on lap 121, moments after Labonte had passed to take the lead on lap 119.
Labonte made his final stop the next time around and came back onto the racetrack about two car-lengths ahead of Wallace.
But the No. 2 Ford got right by again and stayed out front until Labonte made his move in the third turn on lap 146. The two were side-by-side coming off turn four and Labonte's right front banged into Wallace's left rear panel as they sped toward the finish line.
Labonte's car was 0.004-seconds ahead at the line and gradually took control.
With Wallace ahead, the two had been running almost nose-to-tail after the pit stops. But Labonte pulled away steadily after the pass, beating Wallace to the finish by 4.229-seconds - about 20 car-lengths.
Wallace, who led four times for 110 laps, said, "My car just got a little too tight when the clouds came out. Second is pretty good. But to get that close, it's a little hard to smile."
Referring to the pass that gave Labonte the victory, Wallace shrugged and said, "I couldn't shake that No. 18 and I knew I had a tiger by the tail.
"I was real tight in turn three and I was afraid he would get me there. Then we were side-by-side and there's no way we could go into turn one like that, so I backed out of it. That was it."
The race was slowed by just two caution flags and Labonte's average speed of 155.912 mph broke the race record of 155.206 set in 1995 by Dale Earnhardt.
He raised his series lead over defending series champion Dale Jarrett to 87 points after 20 of 34 races.
Both yellow flags were brought out by accidents.
The first came out on lap 16 when Mark Martin slammed into the first-turn wall.
The accident was ignited when Martin backed off to keep from hitting Michael Waltrip, which whom he had been racing for position. Mike Skinner banged into the rear of Martin's Ford, sending it skidding rear-end first into the wall.
John Andretti was the next track victim, banging into the third-turn wall after cutting down his right front tire on lap 42. The green flag came back out on lap 47 and the rest of the race was completed without interruption.
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