BOBBY LABONTE, No. 47 Kingsford Toyota Camry, JTG-Daugherty Racing

How does it feel to be in the top-12 in points this season? “A lot of hard work by the guys at the shop. We have come off of the past two weeks have been a strong effort -- a good start to the season. We’re looking forward to this weekend. It always builds confidence when you run good, have good finishes and get a good start to the season. Hopefully we can continue that. Watching the hard work that everyone puts into it and all the resources and everything that we have to work with -- not leaving many stones unturned as you might say. There’s a lot there to look at. It gives me confidence when you get to the race track knowing that you should have all the stuff, it’s just a matter of putting it all together when you get here.”

Bobby Labonte, JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota
Bobby Labonte, JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota

Eric Gilbert

Has the attention your team has received this week in the media helped their confidence? “That does work out good. We have a sponsors conference today at the hotel that Tad and Jodi (Geschickter, co-owners) are at, then we have a dinner for all of our sponsors there tonight. Again, when you have a couple good weeks, things are starting off good, solid for everybody -- it helps out and when you get your name out there and the sponsor’s names out there, it definitely helps out. All of our sponsors are happy about that. Really looking forward to having dinner with them tonight and hopefully have a good meeting today. I made a comment this week, I think we’re doing a lot of the right things and I know that’s good for all of us. Hopefully we can continue that.”

Are the crashes that have occurred in the first two races of the season be a sign of what’s to come this season? “I think Daytona is Daytona and there were more single car accidents or two or three (accidents). Obviously Daytona happens, that’s kind of where you have that -- you're kind of expecting that. Phoenix last weekend, I think it was where NASCAR had a competition caution at lap 40, which was the right thing for the rain we had the night before, but when you had a caution at lap 34 or 32, pit tires, go back out, gas, no gas, two tires, four tires, no tires -- whenever you mix all that up, things like that happen. The track was still a little slippery at the start of the race. I’ve been at Phoenix before and come off turn four and the track would be blocked. They’ve had big accidents there before. I don’t really count it as a trend, I just count it as that just happened. It’s happened there before. It could happen again. I hope that we don’t see it for a long time because no one wants that. Hopefully that’s not a trend that we’re seeing, and I don’t think it is.”

How does having a veteran crew chief like Frank Kerr on your team? “I think Tad (Geschickter, co-owner) coming to the Cup Series two years ago, this is his third year, obviously a lot Nationwide races and a lot of good drivers, good people. This organization is still his organization. I think Frank (Kerr, crew chief) is one of those guys that’s a hard worker. He knows his stuff. You still have to be surrounded by good people. He is willing to have that, like every team can’t do it on their own, he’s no different. He understands that we have to have people to help us do things and all that. I think it’s very positive. I think he’s a great asset and very positive to the team, to Tad’s organization because of his experience.”

How does a lack of winning for some time affect your ability to win? “That’s tough and that’s one of the toughest things about our sport. A lot of it is about momentum and a lot of it’s about confidence -- it’s about your race team. You could be close -- sometimes you see a guy finish second three or four times and then when he wins, he wins like three or four in a row because the confidence level. It’s amazing. There’s no doubt that it’s hard on you. If you’re used to winning races and things like that -- the sport is humbling and passes you by or weeks go by and the next thing you know you’re like, ‘Crap, I haven’t won one in three weeks, I haven’t won one in 10 weeks.’ You see guys that go through it all the time. Fortunately or unfortunately, there’s never anybody that from A to Z in their career is completely dominant or completely -- they don’t have their dry spells or have their times and moments. Again, that’s good and bad. It does weigh on you, obviously and it was great to see Jeff (Gordon) win last weekend. Hopefully -- he was able to go through the offseason and build his confidence with his new team and they come out to Phoenix and ran real strong. They didn’t qualify that great, but they ran strong in the race. It’s so competitive that there’s sometimes when a 10th place finish or a fourth-place finish or an eighth-place finish is sometimes a moral victory to help you get to that. That’s where I had said a few weeks ago about -- in our situation and most anybody the same way, if they don’t have the good weekend one weekend, they can’t let that bother them for the next three weeks in a row because they could have an opportunity if they keep their head on straight and keep their attitude right and keep their confidence up. It’s not easy out there when a guy like Jeff Gordon hasn’t won in two years. With the same team that he’s been with since day one too at the same time. The confidence is huge. I know that Jeff winning that race -- I’m sure his week -- he wasn’t questioning himself, but I’m sure it’s got to be a relief off his shoulders.”

What benefit does the team have to putting a past champion like yourself in the car? “I like to think that I’m not going to say anything about me other than I’m a small part of it. Hopefully I can contribute the time that I’ve had and the experiences that I’ve had to it. We all have to do it together. If we can look back or look ahead at the crystal ball in six or eight months and think, that was a perfect match right there. I hope that the crystal ball tells us that and that’s what we’re working towards and hoping that the experience levels and the excitement and the experience that we have inside the depth of the race team, it’s not a new team depth-wise. Hopefully we can use that for our advantage. In my mind I believe we have a good group. We haven’t worked together that long but we have a good group and hopefully we can make the changes that we need to make week in and week out to be better on the race track. With the people that we have, I know we can do that.”

Can you explain racing at Martinsville and is it a track that is easy to overdrive? “Martinsville is a great track and I love going there, obviously, first of all. It’s tough. One good thing about it is that the tires do give up enough grip -- usually after a 40 or 50 lap run you’ll see them fade and you’ll see changes in the cars balance and everything where it goes from one extreme to the other. It’s still pretty much single groove in the corners. You can make a pass on a guy that might be a little slower. It’s kind of difficult to pass at times, but then it’s easier to hit somebody at make a run at it instead of here (Las Vegas) you don’t want to do that as much. There, you’re not going quite as fast. I think it’s an exciting track. I think it’s exciting for us and the fans to go to. He’s right, it’s kind of hard because everybody is so close and I’ll never forget this one time, we were there a few years ago and I remember Brett Bodine and Gary Nelson, they were looking at the lap times and everybody was within two-and-a-half tenths qualifying -- everybody. One of them made the comment, ‘Isn’t that great?’ I thought, no, really it’s not. When everybody is so close how are you going to pass. Fortunately, when we go there, as the race goes on and progresses there’s rubber on the track and your car does change and little bit. That helps out a lot. I think it’s good to have cars that give up grip or have to try different lines. You can enter high, you can stay on the bottom -- you can do a few things. It’s a difficult place to go to nowadays with the way our cars are -- to come in and get tires if you’re in 20th place. You come in and get four tires and you have 20 laps to go -- I’m not sure how far you’re going to advance, you know what I mean? Unfortunately the cars are so close and those lap times are so close that doesn’t quite happen. You see the guy either dodge a wreck or cause one to get past guys. That kind of lends into exciting racing at the same time. Anyway, I agree with him, but to me, it’s still one of the better, exciting tracks that we go to and you still have to race the track no matter what. If you can save your stuff and be there with 100 laps to go in a good position, you can have a chance still.”

-source: toyota motorsports