Bobby Labonte, Atlanta II winner press conference

BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: WERE YOU AWARE THAT JERRY NADEAU WAS RUNNING OUT OF GAS? "No. There was a comment made on the radio that Eddie [Masencup] made - our spotter. But it was one of those deals you go, ...

BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

WERE YOU AWARE THAT JERRY NADEAU WAS RUNNING OUT OF GAS?
"No. There was a comment made on the radio that Eddie [Masencup] made - our spotter. But it was one of those deals you go, 'Yeah, but he won't run out of gas. It's not going to be my luck.' I didn't think he would. I had no idea it was that close. I don't know how many laps we ran. I couldn't count. But it was just one of those deals where I didn't know that it was a situation where he was really going to run out of gas, other than what Eddie said and I just really didn't take it to heart because I just really didn't think he would."

DID YOU TRY TO DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT TO TRY TO PASS HIM AFTER HE RAN OUT OF GAS?
"Just wave to him when you go by; that's about it -- unfortunately for him. I tried to drive harder, but actually I thought he would probably coast across the line first anyway because I figured he had such a big lead that it wasn't going to matter. I wasn't exactly sure where he had run out of gas - if he had run out in three or going into three or halfway down the back straightaway. But, when I came off turn two was when they said it, so I tried to drive real hard into three. That probably wasn't the right thing to do. It was just a gift right there at that point in time."

WHAT MAKES IT SO HARD TO DEFEND A TITLE?
"I don't know. There are a lot of elements in there. We can obviously say that we had five or six DNFs this year and that's a pretty big key because last year we had zero. If you want to throw out six {DNFs] and give us a 10th place average in all those, where would we be in points? I'm not sure where it would be, but we would be pretty close. That's the biggest difference that we had this year. We just had mechanical failures and accidents. Daytona and Talladega were two accidents we had that we didn't need. Then this race here in the spring, we fell out, Las Vegas we had a problem, Texas we had a problem and Chicago we had a problem."

IS IT A LET-DOWN?
"Of course. You come off a year like we did last year and you want to try to do the same thing and when it's not working out for you, it's obviously harder to keep your chin up. But, I'll say that Jimmy, all the guys and everybody at the shop, I don't think we let it bother us like it definitely could have. We were 26th in points when we left here in the spring and we probably didn't gain on that very much the next few races after that, so it's pretty hard to get caught up when the points are awarded through consistency. When you're not consistent, then that's the difference between this year and last year - a lot of it."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU WERE AT AN AERODYNAMIC DISADVANTAGE ON LONG RUNS AT A TRACK LIKE THIS?
"My thinking is that we're not quite as efficient as we'd like to be, aero-wise. We might could achieve the same, hypothetical, not-quite-be-at-the-bottom-of-the-totem-pole, but yet have an efficient race car - maybe more efficient than we've got - but we don't because we don't have kick-outs and this and that, and our spoiler is tall, but it's not tall in the middle. So, there are some things that we'd like to look at, but right now we are hypothetically playing by what we have to do."

WHEN YOU'RE IN A POSITION LIKE JERRY WAS WITH A FIVE-SECOND LEAD AND YOU KNOW YOU'RE ON THE EDGE OF FUEL, DO YOU DRIVE MORE CONSERVATIVE OR CONTINUE TO RUN FLAT-OUT?
"Let me give you two answers. Thinking that was the case, if I have a five-second lead and know that I'm a half a lap shy of running out of fuel - it that's what he was - they would have been telling me on the radio and I would have been doing my job to back out of it and still try to win the race without running out of gas.

"The other answer is, his car was probably so efficient and he had such a good car, he probably was backing out and he was still pulling away.

"You choose whichever one you want to use there."

WHEN YOU WERE BATTLING WITH EARNHARDT, JR., DID YOU THINK YOU WERE WEARING OUT HIS TIRES?
"I knew Dale was going pretty fast on the get-go. He would take off in one and two like a rocket and I was thinking he was going to wear out his tires quicker because on the run before he gave up a little bit when Jerry got by him. Then he kind of stayed stationary there between us and him, but it seemed like he did give up a little bit. Jerry's car was good the time before that on old tires. When I was back there, at that point in time, I didn't have a choice. If I stayed back there and rode behind them, chances are I wasn't going to pass either one of them, just thinking I was going to save my tires because I really wasn't going to save them enough to pass them later anyway. When I made the pass on them both I was pretty surprised that I was able to do that and when I did I thought that maybe I've got the golden one here - all of a sudden it might be right - this might be the set and this might be the time that I got the air right on my car and it's going to be perfect for me. So, I had to go on it. I couldn't sit there and wait. I knew I was probably burning up my tires a little bit, but they were burning their tires up, too, so we were all going to see who burned them up the least."

WERE THERE TIMES WHEN YOU THOUGHT DALE WOULD BE UNBEATABLE?
"Yeah. There were times when I was about middle of the way down the back straightaway and I'd look over off of four and he was there. We'd run 30 laps and I might have caught up a quarter of a second. That's when we were pretty good there in the center part of the race. At that point, I thought he really wasn't pushing as hard as he could have. Then, we ran some pretty fast laps there at the end, so I don't think he was pushing as hard as he could have until the end of the race anyway.

"He looked uncatchable, yes."

WHAT DID YOU SAY TO JEFF GORDON AFTER THE RACE?
"First of all, I just congratulated him, of course, because I think they had a great season - him and Robbie Loomis. This is Robbie's first championship. I've known Robbie for a long time. We're not great friends, but we've known each other for a long time. I've watched him at the Petty's and everything, so I thought that was great for him and for Jeff.

"It's kind of one of those deals where you look at what they did last year. They built their team up and they got better and better, and towards the end of the year, I was like, 'Those are the guys that are going to win next year. Those guys are going to be tough to beat' because they were coming on strong. They had the momentum going, so it's kind of cool to see that because on the flipside, we didn't start off our season just right and halfway through the year, we kept getting better and better and better. Hopefully we can look at it the same way that I look at what they did. They were coming on strong and hopefully we're doing the same thing for next year, too.

"But those guys are good friends and Jeff is a good champion."

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE NOVEMBER RACE IN ATLANTA?
"It's just one of those situations. I can't answer that. We ran good here on the old configuration. Whenever I came here in '95, we finished second to Jeff the first two races. For whatever reason, I like it and here lately, I don't ever really get comfortable in the race car until about halfway through the race. It's just a good place for us to go to. Driving for Jimmy [Makar] - as far as setting the cars up - we both enjoy coming here. We both like it, so when we go to Atlanta, we're like, 'Good, we're going to Atlanta,' so we're just excited about it. We won the last race here when we didn't win a race throughout the season. It's just one of those deals where it's just a great racetrack for us. Sometimes we come up more fortunate than others."

DO YOU HATE TO SEE THE DATE MOVED TO OCTOBER?
"No, not really, it's OK. I didn't know it had been moved to October, but that sounds OK to me. I don't read the papers."

CAN A LATE-SEASON WIN BE A BOOST FOR THE OFF-SEASON?
"I think so. I know Jimmy and I have talked about how heading into the off-season is always an exciting time because it's not much time. You've got to get yourself built up for next year and we're doing that. This helps out. I can say that the past two weeks, we've run good. The finishes might not have shown it, but we had a great race car at Rockingham and at Homestead, it was pretty good, too. I feel like we're achieving things. We're getting better and better and I know that's going to give us confidence for next year."

WHERE DID YOU SEE JERRY OUT OF FUEL AND KNOW THAT YOU WERE GOING TO WIN THE RACE?
"I was coming off of turn two and I was looking in the mirror the '40' car. I figured he was coming on strong - he's got that Dodge - but, anyway, he was coming on strong. But they said off of turn two that [Jerry] was running out of gas. I never saw him until I got to about the middle of turns three and four because he was in my blind spot and there were a couple of cars there. I couldn't make out which one was which. I saw him on the bottom of the racetrack at that point in time. That's when I first saw him and then I passed him about where the entrance to pit road is, between that white line and that other white line, so I never saw him until then and I couldn't. He pulled away and there were a few lapped car up there and I couldn't make out which one was which at that point in time - where he was because he was out five seconds."

ON THREE OF THE TOP FOUR FINISHERS TAKING PROVISIONALS IN QUALIFYING
"I can't explain why we started 39th, other than it just didn't go anywhere. I thought I was in the gas - maybe I wasn't - I don't know, it just wasn't fast. I asked Kevin Harvick; I said, 'I know why I'm back here, but why are you back here?' He said he had his hands full qualifying.

"We were trying to go as fast as we could and sometimes if you slip a little bit, man, you're going to be at the back. That's just the way it is. Speeds picked up during qualifying, some guys didn't and were one of them.

Yesterday in practice we were good, but not as good as we were today. We scratched out some things that we wanted to do last night - what I wanted to do - and Jimmy came up with more things today and we did that, and kind of threw some dice at it really. I can't explain why so many cars from the back finished in the front today. But, it's just one of those tracks that going fast for one lap is one thing, but going 500 miles as fast as you can to get there to the checkered flag, obviously, is something different."

ANY COMPASSION FOR THE LEADER WHEN HE RUNS OUT OF FUEL ON THE LAST LAP?
"No, not in this situation, I don't. I hate it for Jerry, but man, we sure could use this, too. It's just one of those deals. I do hate it for Jerry. But, if we had to be in the right place or the right time, this was the day. We've had some misfortune this year that was not necessarily anybody else's fault but ours. But, you'll take them any way you can get them anymore because they are hard to come by."

ON TIRE MANAGEMENT IN THE COLDER WEATHER AT NEW HAMPSHIRE
"Of all places that we go to, that is one of the toughest it could be because you don't get much grip there when the track is warm. It's going to be hard to do, but we're going to have to do the best we can to get heat in the tires without tires warmers. We're just going to have to get heat in the tires by swerving back and forth. That will be the biggest thing.

"Of all the places that we go to, it's probably going to be one of the hardest because the grip is not good there for the first 10 laps of a run anyway until we get going. If you look at our lap times, it usually gets better after about 10 laps and then it maintains for 25 laps and then if falls off. It's always slippery and we're going to have to be careful."

ON THE NEW TIRES THIS YEAR OVERALL
"It's tough to manage a lot of times because they go one way or they go another way sometimes. Goodyear, I can say they do a great job on one hand and sometimes, when we struggle a little bit, it's easy to point the finger at the tire and say, 'Was that is or not?' But, it's tough to get your car handling just right a lot of times where it seems like we've been better before and we've lost touch with that. We feel like it's that because the tire doesn't feel like it's underneath you a lot of times. And the reason for that is that they have come up with a plan to have tires for more than one racetrack, obviously for saving time and money for those guys, so they can build better tires, so we don't have as many tire failures, and making them harder - maybe it's a lot of that stuff that makes it that way, too. But, they've got a tough job to do and they do a good job at it. Then it's our hands to try to make it as good as possible.

"Sometimes we hit it and sometimes we don't. But, obviously, I think if we were just a little bit better in some areas with the efficiency of our race car - I'm not going to say anything other than that - maybe it would come easier for us."

ON JEFF GORDON'S ACCOMPLISHMENT
"I think it's obvious that he's got good equipment and we all know that. They've got good people that have been associated with him and his race team for a long time. They've been like that, then they made a big change and now they're that way again. At the same time, I can say that he was smart enough to keep people in the right places, and knew what it took. What he has done is that he started off in good equipment, which there is nothing wrong with that, but yet he's been able to maintain that with a level head and he appreciates it, too. You can talk to him and he is genuinely appreciative of what he's got. He realizes that the reason he is where he's at is because of that. He could have easily been on one side of the fence and said that maybe it's all him. Well, I've never heard him say that, so he knows it's the race team that has gotten him to that point. For him to do it at this age - to win four championships - he keeps a very level head, when it comes down to it. With all the stuff that he's got going for him, he keeps it all in stride and knows that he is not the only one that makes it happen. It's everybody around him that makes it happen with him."

HOW MUCH OF THAT DO YOU FEEL IS JEFF?
"I think it's a lot of it. They'll have an off-day, too, but they're off-days are few and far between. I know that he is a talented driver. Having raced against him, you know how smooth he is and he knows how to work on his race car, as far as communicating back and forth to make it better. He understands it, as far as what the car is doing, so he is definitely in a key role. When his car is right, he drives the wheels off of it, but he knows how to take care of it. Nine times out of 10, they're usually right around the top five and they make it happen. Racing against him week-in and week-out, you can see that he can take a good race car and make it a lot better than what other guys can maybe."

ARE YOU READY TO HAVE THE SEASON OVER?
"Next weekend, we're still racing for our position in points. But, you can always look at it like this has been a little bit of an adverse year for us. We haven't been able to repeat like we did last year. What can we learn off of this and try to make it better for next year? So, no matter where we end up in points at the end of the season after next weekend, I'm going to take it as we learned a lot this year. Last year, we learned a lot. We learned different things this year. I hope to think that we're still learning and we're still going to keep learning. Hopefully that is what will make us a better race team - realizing that last year didn't just happen; we have to make it happen.

"We're all pretty tired. It has been a long year from February on. There are times that you wanted it to end halfway through the season. But, we couldn't. NASCAR does things the way they do it. We're going to finish all the races that we've committed ourselves to and that's what we're going to do next week and that's fine. That's OK. We have a long season and you just have to make sure not to wear yourself out. Everybody in the garage area - the teams, everybody - we're all ready for that vacation right now."

-Pontiac Racing-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Kevin Harvick , Robbie Loomis