Landmark starts for Martin and Bobby Labonte

Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte will reach career milestones this weekend when they take the green flag for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
   Martin will be making a 500th career start in the Winston Cup Series that began in 1981 at the Northwestern 400 at North Wilkesboro, (NC) Speedway. In that race, Martin started fifth and finished 27th on the day. He raced four other times in 1981, winning two pole positions and recording a third place finish.
   The following season, Martin ran a full schedule of 30 races and finished second in the battle for the Rookie of the Year to Geoff Bodine and ahead of Johnson City's Brad Teague.
   In the 499 overall starts preceding this weekend's activities, Martin has 32 Winston Cup wins, 42 second place finishes, 41 pole positions and has finished in the top three in the NASCAR point standings seven times.
   Labonte's Winston Cup career started different than most. His first foray into stock car racing's big leagues was as a crew member on the 1984 Hagan Racing team that his older brother Terry drove to the NASCAR Championship that season.
   Bobby, however, did have an abundance of experience behind the wheel starting as a youth racing quarter midgets and working his way up by winning the Late Model Stock championship at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, NC in 1987.
   Labonte's first venture as a driver in Winston Cup came in 1991, the same year he won the Busch Series title and he had two DNF's. His career began to take shape when Bill Davis offered him a ride in 1993 and he finished second in that season's Rookie of the Year battle to Jeff Gordon.
   Since 1995, he has been the driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries machines of Joe Gibbs Racing. In 2000, Labonte made history by winning the Winston Cup championship.
   First, he and Terry are the only set of brothers to claim the coveted prize and he is the only driver with both a Busch Series and Winston Cup title on his resume.
   Thus far in Bobby's career, he has scored 18 wins and has 21 runner-up finishes. He has won 21 pole positions, but is still looking for his first win or pole on a short track, which he hopes to end this weekend.
   INVASION 2002
   Three drivers entered in Saturday's Channelock 250 Busch Series race have family ties to ten victories in the world's biggest open wheel race, the Indianapolis 500.
   There is Casey Mears, driving the No. 66 Phillips 66 Dodge, who is the nephew of four-time Indy winner Rick Mears. Larry Foyt, son of four-time Indy champ A.J. Foyt, will be racing in the No. 14 Harrah's Pontiac.
   Also entered is native Brazilian Christian Fittipaldi, who's the nephew of two-time Indy 500 winner and former Formula One World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi. Christian recently tested his No. 30 Mike's Hard Lemonade Chevy at the .533-mile oval and likened the speeds to an intense video game.
   It's amazing that the speeds and g-forces at Bristol made such a strong impression on the driver, considering just one day before wheeled his CART race car to a third place finish at Monterey.
   Dale Jarrett won't be racing the UPS big, brown truck at Bristol, but he is optimistic that his No. 88 Ford Taurus can win on Sunday. He has 7 top ten finishes in the circuit's last 8 visits to the "World's Fastest Half-Mile."
   Even more excited than Dale is crew chief Jimmy Elledge, who was on the pit crew for Dale Earnhardt, when he won the Food City 500 in 1994.
   "I think it's a cool place because it's a short track with high banks and there's really no other place we race that compares to it," Elledge explained. "Handling comes into play a lot. It's probably 75 to 80 percent of the battle.
   "You have to have a good handling racecar because there are 43 cars on that small track and you have to have a car that's handling well enough so the driver can get around them."
   He's also glad to come to a place where politicking for rules are put on the back burner for one week. "Issues like down force aren't as critical at Bristol because it is a smaller track," said Elledge. "You have to have a driver who's smart enough to be able to know when to press the issue and when not. It just takes a lot of patience and concentration."
   Jarrett has proven he has that quality winning the August night race at BMS back in 1997.
   Thursday, the Food City grocery chain celebrated their 10th anniversary as sponsor of the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway and announced plans to continue for five more years.
   "We're proud we've been part of the growth and part of the fan base," said Food City's Steve Smith. "We like having this in our backyard. It's important for us to be able to bring the drivers of the sport to our customers.
   "It helps us showcase our region which we are very proud of. We're not a big company. We're a regional company that operates in Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky. This in the heart of our market. I couldn't think of a better way to spend our money or find a better company to partner with than Bristol Motor Speedway."