Labonte hoping New Hampshire launches great second half DETROIT, July 18, 2001 - As the NASCAR Winston Cup season hits the start of its second half this weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway, Bobby Labonte is hoping for big things, and...
Labonte hoping New Hampshire launches great second half
DETROIT, July 18, 2001 - As the NASCAR Winston Cup season hits the start of its second half this weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway, Bobby Labonte is hoping for big things, and no one can argue that he is due.
Labonte, who is ranked 10th in points despite a disappointing first half, is seeking his first win of the year this weekend. The driver of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix drove to four victories and a dozen top-three finishes during his championship run last season. One of those 12 "podium" finishes came in the form of a second in the series' last trip to New Hampshire in September when the race was run as a restrictor-plate contest.
As the series prepares for the first of two races at New Hampshire this season, NASCAR has chosen to remove the restrictor plates and return to standard engine rules on the flat one-mile oval. It's a move that Labonte applauds as he looks forward to an "unrestricted" run at his 17th career win.
Thoughts From Bobby Labonte, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
ON THE FIRST HALF OF YOUR SEASON
"It seemed like at the beginning of the year, Daytona was a 'downer,' Rockingham was an 'upper' and then we went to Las Vegas and it was kind of like, 'Well, we didn't run quite as good as we wanted to.'
"It seemed like it took me, personally, about eight or 10 races, I guess, to say, 'OK, maybe we're not supposed to be running good now.' Maybe I needed to realize that it's like, 'OK, just start over,' and just say, 'OK, let's just pretend like maybe we're not supposed to run good. Let's quit thinking that we're supposed to run good.' From there, we stepped back and said, 'Let's figure this out.' We started doing different things and figuring stuff out like that. That seemed like that was a little bit more of a relief for me because I was eating myself up thinking, 'What is wrong with this picture?'
"It's definitely a character-building year, what we've done this year. All of us are trying to find out what we can do to make it better - the performance of the car. Jimmy and I have talked about that quite a bit. We've run a couple of tests that weren't at NASCAR tracks just to kind of learn a few things over again.
"We've had some [bad] luck this year. But, if we keep trying stuff and we keep racing, things are going to happen. For the most part, I think we've learned to accept some that we're going to run bad every now and then. What does that mean? It means we've got to work harder. It means we're not working hard enough and we're not headed in the right direction. We maybe kind of went up the wrong path on our setups and need to come down a go a different way. The big thing is just that I think this is a big, old character-builder for us as a race team to make sure that we get everything right."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT GOING BACK TO NEW HAMPSHIRE WITHOUT RESTRICTOR PLATES?
"It's perfect. To me, the way I looked at it last year was that after we got going I pretty much figured out that I was driving so far down in the corner -- so much further than I ever did - I was probably carrying more speed than I ever did through that point of the corner and was probably going faster, so I don't know that that was the answer."
WAS IT FRUSTRATING TO RUN SECOND THE ENTIRE RACE LAST YEAR TO JEFF WBURTON, HO LED ALL 300 LAPS?
"I can't say it was frustrating because it really wasn't. It wasn't that bad. We almost got by him (Jeff Burton). If we could have gotten by him, maybe we could have stayed there because it was so hard to pass. And at that time in the season, we were looking at a second [place finish] as being alright."
COMPARED TO OTHER YEARS, HOW MUCH MORE HAVE YOU HAD TO FOCUS ON SAFETY ISSUES DURING THE PAST YEAR?
"I know at the beginning of the year it seemed like every time I turned around there was always something going on with safety. I would say that really since Daytona that's been a heavy thing. Last year we did a little bit, but this year it has picked up a bunch.
"I know there is more to do, but with all that we do - you know, there are only 24 hours in a day. With a family and a team and testing and racing and everything else, it limits the amount of time you can spend on it and doesn't give you enough time to do as much as you'd like to do. But, even with that as it is, I still think we've done quite a bit."
IS THE INCREASED FOCUS ON SAFETY A POSITIVE THAT MAY COME OUT OF THE TRAGEDY THAT NASCAR HAS EXPERIENCED DURING THE PAST YEAR?
"If you have to make a positive out of a negative, that would be the positive. I don't know that it will ever match the negative. All we can do is to try to learn something every day."
SOME PEOPLE RAISED QUESTIONS ABOUT NEW HAMPSHIRE INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY AFTER TWO DEATHS OCCURRED THERE LAST YEAR - ANY THOUGHTS ON THAT?
"No, it's not the track. I don't know that anybody has ever said what happened to the race cars (of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin, Jr.) - why they crashed. There has been a lot of speculation there, but nothing official. I know that a lot of the speculation is that the throttles hung. I was behind Kenny [in practice] and the car never slowed down and when it doesn't slow down that means it's running wide open. I've experienced that before. I can say for a fact when the throttle hung on my car at Darlington [which led to a crash in practice], we couldn't find it hang again later.
"I guess my point is that it's not really the racetrack. That can happen anywhere. Now, with the racetrack being flat and 3,400-pound cars trying to go around it two-wide, that isn't necessarily the best mix as far as racing goes. But when [Bob Bahre] built it, he built it for motorcycles, for Indy cars, for modifieds and all kinds of stuff. What may be good for one might not be good for the others.
"But I can't say it's the racetrack. I've known Bob for a long time. He's a great guy. He didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't the track. Bob was kind of a victim of circumstance. I know he's done a lot of great things for people that most people never hear about. It's not his fault that things happened like that. It just happened."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE 20-RACE STRETCH THAT WILL FINISH THE 2001 SEASON?
"I think it's a big grind. I was a looking at my calendar over the weekend to try to figure out when to go do something. I was like, 'Well, we can maybe go do it between this race and this race.' Then, I flipped over another page and there are four more races on that page and four more on this other page.
"I don't think it's a big deal right now, but I think it will be toward the end of this stretch. It's going to be about personalities, personnel, attitudes and stuff like that. You get used to traveling anyway. You can do that. You can have jet lag. You get used to that; you can get over that. But it's everything else that goes along with it.
"I think it's going to be tough on teams and people, as far as that goes. People are still going to get to the racetrack. It's just going to be what kind of attitude they're going to have when they get there."