BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: TALK ABOUT THE PASS FOR THE LEAD OVER DALE JR. "I got on the outside of him I guess in (Turn) 3, went down into (Turn) 1 and he got by me. I swung back to the inside, went into ...
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
TALK ABOUT THE PASS FOR THE LEAD OVER DALE JR.
"I got on the outside of him I guess in (Turn) 3, went down into (Turn) 1 and he got by me. I swung back to the inside, went into the corner, made it stick into the Tunnel Turn. I tried to hold it at the bottom as long as I could and got back on the gas, and the spotter said, 'You got three car lengths on him.' That's what I needed to hear. I think leading up to that, our car was really good on long runs, and earlier in the day his was giving up a little bit on runs. Didn't know if that was going to happen again for him or me both, but it seemed like I was just catching him a little bit at a time. It was perfect when I was running eighth, and it was perfect when I was running fifth, and it was perfect when I got behind him. Our car didn't give up any, that's what led up to the pass is our car just never gave up any grip. The car was just good and balanced all day long. When we had good clean air all afternoon, towards the end of the race that's what helped us stay up front."
DALE JR. SAID YOU MUST'VE WANTED THE WIN WORST THAN HIM.
"I don't know that it was any more than him, but I wanted it pretty bad because it's been awhile since we've been able to be that close to a checkered flag without fifteen cars passing before us. No doubt we wanted it real bad. I think when we got by him it obviously took the wind out of his sails. He was being pursued that whole time, trying to hit his marks just right, and I was catching him a tenth a lap, a tenth a lap, even a lap, two-tenths a lap, back and forth. Knowing his car was giving up a little bit, or had earlier in the day, I felt pretty good that our car was going to be good towards the end of the run."
YOU WERE CLOSE TO THE WALL RUNNING SIDE BY SIDE WITH DALE JR. WERE YOU AWARE HOW CLOSE YOU WERE?
"We ran pretty close to the wall almost all day. But with three laps to go, if you got anything to hang out I guess you got to hang it out then. It was exciting to see that for the most part you don't want to run side to side, you want to run in the groove. But there at the end we ran side by side, and I'm sure we ran pretty fast, swapping back and forth. I didn't want to run there all day, but when you're on the outside of somebody fighting for the lead with three laps to go, you've got to try something."
THE CAR SEEMED TO WORK WELL THROUGH THE TUNNEL TURN WHERE YOU PASSED DALE JR.
"Well, I put in a lot of practice today. Our car was really good there. If I had any good corner today, it was the Tunnel Turn. I could get through there faster than I had in previous races here, and I guess I could drive it in deeper when I had to, or at least when it counted most."
WITH ABOUT TEN LAPS TO GO YOU WERE ABOUT 2.5 SECONDS BEHIND. DID YOU THINK YOU HAD ENOUGH TIME?
"We were gaining a little bit, and Jimmy (Makar) was rattling off times, but I didn't know how far we were back at he one time. But it goes back to earlier in the day when it seemed like our car never gave anything up time-wise. It seemed like we could run the same lap times. It wasn't fast from the get-go sometimes, but it didn't give up as much as some of the other guys because we made headway on a long part of a run. I thought with ten to go, 'It's going to be close.' And then with five to go I thought 'Ah, I think we're going to catch him.' I still had no idea we were going to be able to pass him because I still didn't know where I was going to pass him. On that restart he took off pretty good and I got by Johnny (Benson) and I thought, 'Well we're even on lap times, maybe better by a tenth, he was better by a tenth. Jimmy just kept reminding me to hit my marks right, and I don't know what my lap times were, but if I had to hit all my marks right, I did it on those last set of tires the last 20 laps of that run because I probably went through Turn 3 better than I had all day. I thought I had to try something to try and catch him, and it was working."
YOUR THOUGHTS ON YOUR FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON
"Yeeha! I had a dream that we were going to go to Atlanta and need to win a race like we've had to do twice before. I didn't think my nerves could stand it. But it's a great feeling. It's not unexpected, but after what we've been through, we just kept clawing our way back up there. And to get it right now, here, it's definitely wonderful. There've been times this year where we weren't running good enough to see the flags waving at the end. Usually by the time we get there, he's already put the flags up. So this is cool, this is great. We've definitely been on both sides of the spectrum."
DID YOUR EXPERIENCE HERE, HAVING WON HERE BEFORE, DID THAT HELP YOU TODAY?
"Winning twice here a couple years ago definitely doesn't hurt. When you come back to a track you've won at, it does instill some confidence in you. At the same time, I made the comment the other day testing at Indy that we weren't testing that good. I didn't remember any of the lines we ran there last year when we won the race. So, you've got to have a good car and you've got to have everything work right for you. Our pit stops were good - everything was good today. Engine was good, car was good, had the right setup in it, made the right calls, everything just went our way. We had everything right. Whether we won here in the past or haven't, I mean, I've spun out here a lot too. But wining in the past definitely gives you confidence to get back on the gas and get after it."
DOES THIS GIVE YOU CONFIDENCE GOING INTO THE BRICKYARD 400?
"Yea, I think so. Like I said, we tested up there the other day, but we got rained on and didn't get to finish our test. We had already talked about some things we were going to do when we go back, and wee knew that this track lends itself to that type of setup with some changes. I believe it will help us when we first hit the track there Friday morning. I'm looking forward to it."
GOING INTO THIS RACE DID YOU THINK THAT YOU OR TONY HAD A CHANCE TO WIN TODAY?
"Yea, Tony was fast in practice yesterday. And then after talking to him and Greg (Zipadelli) last night we knew that they were going to be fast. I don't know if their car was a little bit loose there at the beginning, but it looked like it started coming to them at the end. I don't think I started off as loose as they did. We did talk that one time when I passed him on one of the last restarts, my car just took off like a rocket. I came on the radio and I told him, 'I meant to push you, I didn't mean to pass you.' He said it was fine and that he had given me room to get by him. Yesterday he was pretty good in both practices and I was pretty good in both practices, so I told Jimmy we were starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel, we just needed to see if it was a train or not. But it wasn't a train and that was good. It's a good deal that both cars were competitive all day long - I don't think he fell out of the top 10 all day either."
YOU HAD TO BE GRITTING YOUR TEETH THERE IN THOSE FINAL LAPS WHEN YOU WERE RACING WITH DALE JR.
"It was pretty nail-biting time there towards the end, racing (Dale) Jr. that hard. I know after Daytona Junior wanted to win really bad again after what happened down there. There's no doubt he had a lot of desire to win today. I know he was gritting his teeth just as hard as I was. It's kind of ironic because last week at Loudon I got turned around a, and he's the one that hit me. As soon as they interviewed him he apologized, and he was the first one to the car here Friday morning. I knew he didn't mean to do it, it was just an accident. That's just part of it. But to come down to it today and race him like we did was pretty ironic. I think it was more exciting just to race him because you watch him and he reminds you so much of his dad. So that was pretty special, knowing that he was not going to give you anything. But we raced clean and we raced hard, that as the coolest thing. We were side by side, but I had as much trust in him as I did anybody. That's the neatest thing about it."
WAS THERE ANY PART OF THE RACE WHERE YOR CAR WASN'T WORKING THE WAY YOU WANTED IT?
"I think all day we were pretty good on the starts. Seems like we dropped back a lot of positions one time because the '19' car couldn't get going and we probably went back 8 or 10 positions. When you get back there mired in the back your car's not quite as efficient aero-wise. The only time we had a miscommunication was coming into the pits when Kyle (Petty) was running slow on the racetrack and I started coming on to pit road, and both Jimmy and my spotter, Eddie Masencup, started talking at the same time and it got real staticy. I thought they were trying to tell me the caution had come out and if I came in, I'd have to go to the back of the field. I figured I don't want that, so I probably lost four or five seconds on that deal, and then the caution came out the next lap. That was the only real hiccup we had all day."
DID IT GET ROUGH RUNNING WITH AND THEN TRYING TO PASS DALE JR.?
"We knew what we were supposed to do there at the end - racing for a win with two laps to go. It wasn't rough, it wasn't a push and shove, it was just trying to get position on each other throughout which corner would be the best for the guy that's going to come out on top. It's been a long time since I've been able to do that, too. Some guys get to do it all the time, but I don't get to do it too often.
HOW HAVE YOU GOTTEN BACK TO WHERE YOU'RE USED TO BEING?
"We went to Daytona and had a DNF, went to Rockingham and could've won, got second, and it looked like we were back on track. And then we had a series of things that happened, a couple of engine failures and things like that. It's kind of tough when last year you didn't have any. We'd still go to the racetrack and not be as competitive as we'd like to be, and I finally had to tell myself that maybe we weren't going to be competitive. I couldn't think it was going to come naturally or just fall in our lap. Maybe I had to tell myself we not going to run good so we could run good again."
DOES THIS WIN GIVE YOU RE-NEWED MOMENTUM IN THE POINTS CHASE?
"Well, we're 409 points out according to the points sheet, but there's a lot of racing to go and anything can happen. Obviously there's not much that's going to happen bad to Jeff (Gordon), Ricky (Rudd) or Dale (Jarrett), but last year leading the points for most of the season, everybody asked us about leading the points then. We'd say if you just run good week in and week out, and you finished good and have top fives and don't have any DNFs, then you look at the points sheet at the end of the day and find out you're still there. So I'm not really going to think about it a whole lot. Anything can happen. We'll just have to wait and see."
JIMMY MAKAR, CREW CHIEF, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
YOUR STRATEGY ON THE LAST PIT STOP
"We pretty much planned to just get gas that last time. We hadn't run but a few green-flag laps. We knew what our gas window was - we had to go to Lap 159 to make it to the end on gas. When it got close to that point we had a couple of quick cautions in a row and we didn't run but four or five laps on our tires, so we knew tires weren't going to be an issue. Track position was going to be the big thing. There was 21 cars on the lead lap and we needed to get out in the top four to six cars to not get caught up in traffic and the racing that goes on back there. It's so tough to make any headway back in traffic late in the race like that. Jeff (Gordon) took four tires and never really could make his way back out of the midpack there.
DID YOU PLAN FOR THE CLOUD COVER WE HAD TODAY?
"We had been watching the weather like normal. We've sort of become weathermen too. This racetrack changes a lot with clouds. We kept an eye on the weather and made some adjustments on the car accordingly banking on it being cloudy."
HOW HAVE YOU GOTTEN BACK TO WHERE YOU'RE USED TO BEING?
"We've struggled a lot this year, you know that, and we've had several things keep us from being as competitive as we'd like to be this year. It's been a humbling experience. We're not used to not being competitive on a weekly basis. Adversity usually brings out the character in people. These guys on the Interstate Batteries team and Bobby never gave up. We've worked hard, had long conversations, changed things - it's not like we've just been sitting around waiting for it to happen. We're starting to see some results, and it's a very good feeling knowing that we haven't forgotten how to win. Relief, yes, but we feel like we're back and we can go race now and feel like we can be competitive."
SEEMS LIKE TODAY YOU WERE BACK TO YOUR OLD WAYS OF HAVING A GOOD 'END-OF-THE-RACE' CAR.
"I think even last year and the year before when we were competitive, that's our strategy most of the time to not run out front and lead every lap all the time. We typically find a good comfortable place for the race car, Bobby doesn't have to over-drive it and we can work on it during the race. That's really nothing different than what we've done in the past. It usually doesn't pay a dime to lead a lap in the middle of the race. We felt very comfortable running fifth through tenth most of the day. Bobby did a good job of biding his time, picking and choosing his place to pass cars, and he kept out of trouble and had a good car at the end."