LAS VEGAS — Veteran Bobby Labonte, whose future as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver appeared in doubt during the off-season, enjoyed a strong run Sunday and finished fifth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Labonte, the 2000 Cup champion, had parted with Petty Enterprises after last season before Petty arranged to merge with the team of Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
But before this year's season-opening Daytona 500, Labonte was hired to drive the No. 96 Ford for the one-car team of Hall of Fame Racing, which itself had formed an alliance with Yates Racing.
Labonte, 44, started 17th in Sunday's Shelby 427 and was running in second place with 30 laps remaining in the 285-lap race before slipping at the finish.
Even so, the race was "really huge" for the team, Labonte said. "I just feel like we've got all this confidence on our side right now."
Highly touted rookie Joey Logano, who got off to a rocky start at the first two races at Daytona and Fontana, turned in a solid performance and 13th-place finish.
Logano, 18, succeeded two-time champion Tony Stewart in driving the No. 20 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing, and with high expectations. But he finished last at Daytona and 26th at Auto Club Speedway eight days ago.
On Sunday, though, the Connecticut native started 20th, led one lap while others pitted and nearly finished in the top 10.
"We just kept our nose clean the whole day, kept it out of the wrecks, just kind of stayed with the main plan, and that was [to] finish," Logano said.
Las Vegas is the quintessential getaway for many, of course, and that includes getting away from the economic recession.
Despite rising job losses and falling consumer confidence, NASCAR estimated that 140,000 showed up Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
However, that figure -- which includes spectators in the infield -- fell short of the sellout that the 142,000-seat track often has enjoyed since it began playing host to Cup races in 1998.
With his sixth-place finish, Jeff Gordon leads the Sprint Cup standings by 18 points over Clint Bowyer and by 40 points over Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. . . . Gordon also led 17 laps Sunday, lifting him over the 20,000 laps-led mark in his Cup career to 20,006. . . . David Gilliland of Riverside, who first had to qualify for the race on his speed in time trials, finished 14th in a Chevrolet for TRG Motorsports. . . . David Reutimann's fourth-place finish was a career best in the Cup series.