Texas-grown Labontes look for some home cookin’

Mar 27, 2001 7:10 AM

The bizarre NASCAR Winston Cup season continues with the latest chapter perhaps the strangest. Elliott Sadler, a 125-1 long shot, pulled off the most unlikely win in recent Winston Cup history. That makes him the sixth different driver to win in as many races this season. For three of those, including Sadler, it was their first career Winston Cup win.

Station Casinos sports books are the only ones in Las Vegas to list as many as 41 drivers each week, putting 11 drivers at odds of 125-1 or higher. Most of the other books had Sadler as part of the field with odds averaging 25-1.

"I’m still in shock," said Sunset Station sports book manager Fred Crespi. "There’s a reason why he’s 125-1, That’s because he’s never shown any sign of coming close to the winner’s circle in his career. His (Wood Brothers) team hasn’t won in eight years, and drivers like him aren’t supposed to win.

"That win gives hope to some of the lesser teams in NASCAR," he added. "It also will have an effect on our board. We’ll see tons of action on all our long shot odds. Sadler’s win gives hope to the small bettor who now sees a large profit can be had by betting some of these drivers."

Crespi said Sadler had the fewest tickets written on him of all the drivers listed, but that’s sure to change this week. Sadler can be had at 100-1 for this week’s race at Texas.

With six drivers winning to start the season, that makes it nine straight different drivers in a row to win, dating back to last season. The record to start the season is 10, set last season. Coming into Texas, there are plenty of quality drivers to choose from who can keep the streak alive.

The top candidate would be Bobby Labonte (6-1). A Corpus Christi, Texas, native, he’s one of only two drivers to finish in the top 10 in all four Texas races. He finished third three times, but this year has been a struggle for him. In six races this season, Labonte only has one top-10 finish.

If any track can get him back on track, it’s Texas — ideally suited for his style. The 1½-mile oval was renovated two years ago, making it similar to Atlanta and Charlotte, where he’s run well.

After six races, Jeff Burton (6-1) is 36th in the standings with no top 10 finishes. If preseason odds were put up on that type of proposition, 5,000-1 could have easily been had. Burton was co-favorite to win the championship. Now he’s fighting to get into the top 30. His credentials are impressive at Texas. He’s the track’s all-time money leader and finished in the top 10 three times in four races, including the track’s inaugural victory.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10-1) captured his first career win in this race last season. It was the beginning of a dominant portion of the season for Junior that saw him run equal or better than the top drivers in NASCAR. Since the passing of his father at Daytona, where Junior finished second, things have been tough. He hasn’t been a factor in any race since. It takes a high level of concentration just to get in and compete in the Winston Cup Series at these speeds and an even higher level to win. If the focus isn’t there, no matter how great the car, it won’t matter.

So will Junior be focused? There’s no question he’ll have the car. Teammates Steve Park (15-1) and Michael Waltrip (30-1) have shown DEI cars are top-notch every week. Texas just might be the place where Junior gets it going again. If he does win, be prepared to lose a few tears.

Terry Labonte (22-1) has thrust himself back into the upper echelon of drivers. After a poor start to the season, he’s compiled fifth- and sixth-place finishes in two of his last three starts. Like brother Bobby, Terry finished in the top 10 in every Texas race. Nothing like a little home cooking for the natives. Last season, Terry was the pole sitter and managed to finish eighth. In 1999, Terry took the checkers for his only win of that season. That was his last victory. The Hendrick team has been impressive on the 1½-mile ovals since the middle of last season. They qualify well and have been great on the long runs.

Station Casinos have a fun match-up prop out this week featuring the Labonte brothers at Texas. It’s the Burtons (Jeff & Ward) vs. the Labontes. The Labontes are –145. Whoever accumulates the most Winston Cup points as a tandem — wins.

Other drivers to watch this week: Jeff Gordon (5-1) has never won at Texas — or finished, for that matter. It’s one of the few tracks where he’s never won. The same scenario was nearly identical coming into Vegas.

Jeremy Mayfield (22-1) has two straight third-place finishes. He led a lap in the last three Texas races. His best finish was fifth.

Dale Jarrett (5-1) is the only driver to lead a lap in all four Texas races. He finished second twice at Texas.

Bobby Hamilton (50-1) is eighth in points and quietly becoming a factor.

Sterling Marlin (10-1) should have another good qualifying session. He’s been the most bet driver to win through the first six races.

Next week, the pure savage power of NHRA Drag Racing rips through Las Vegas. We’ll preview the odds and top drivers.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction in Texas race:

1) No. 18 Bobby Labonte (6-1)

2) No. 24 Jeff Gordon (5-1)

3) No. 8 D. Earnhardt Jr. (10-1)

4) No. 5 Terry Labonte (22-1)

5) No. 99 Jeff Burton (6-1)