Corpus Christi, Texas, native Bobby Labonte was the featured guest of Saturday morning's Winston Breakfast at Texas Motor Speedway prior to Sunday's Samsung/RadioShack 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race. BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES...
Corpus Christi, Texas, native Bobby Labonte was the featured guest of Saturday morning's Winston Breakfast at Texas Motor Speedway prior to Sunday's Samsung/RadioShack 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race.
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
YOU'RE BACK IN TEXAS - DO YOU STILL FEEL LIKE IT'S YOUR HOME? "Well, in a lot of ways I do. When you grow up for 10-15 years in Corpus Christi, that's a quite a long time. I've spent more time in North Carolina now, but still my grassroots are here in Texas even though we're still 400 miles from Corpus Christi, I think it is, and that's a long way from "home-home." I think I read in the paper the other day somebody said this is our home track, our home-track advantage and everything. But 400 miles is like from Indy to Georgia or something like that, so it's still a long ways, but Texas is great to come to, we love the facility here and the fans here are great. To come back here is always a neat deal because you do feel like if you have a home-track advantage you'll take it."
YOU'VE DONE WELL HERE AT TEXAS. "We generally like tracks like this, a mile and a half, the quad-ovals, if you can call them that, the Charlottes, the Atlantas, and this place is no different. We've had some top-five and top-10 finishes here, and last year was the only time we didn't finish the race and finish outside the top 10, of course. A track like this is definitely to our liking. We've struggled a little bit the last year and a half on tracks like this, but we qualified 15th yesterday gives us encouragement to run good on Sunday."
HAS THERE BEEN TOO BIG OF A DEAL MADE ABOUT THE SPEED HERE AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY? "Only if something goes wrong. If nothing goes wrong it's okay, but obviously when something goes wrong ... there were two incidents yesterday that I saw and I guess there were a couple here Thursday but I wasn't here for that, but the fuel cells were wrapped underneath the seat of the car and that's a pretty major hit. Obviously if you slowed it down 15 miles per hour you wouldn't have that. So the speeds are pretty high but like I said, until something happens you're not really thinking about it. So it is a big deal when something goes wrong. We haven't got to run race practice yet putting cars behind us, in front of us, beside us, whatever the case may be, so we don't know what the air will do for you or do to you, so we'll have to wait and see what that traffic's like in practice. We'll kind of get a better feel for it after today. Trying to go fast by yourself is a little different than out there with 40 other cars and you can see what's going on."
IF THE GENERAL CONSENSUS IS IF WE SLOWED THE CARS DOWN WE WOULD HAVE BETTER RACING, WHY DON'T YOU THINK WE SLOW THEM DOWN? "The general consensus would be yes, but I really can't answer that. That faster we go at places like this, it's not going to be as conducive for a side-by-side race. Somebody asked me yesterday about what they had heard about somebody talking about putting restrictor plates on. Then we'd just be running wide open. We're almost wide open now, but then we would be running wide open for sure. I don't think that's the answer either because then you've got Daytona and Talladega all over again. We'd be like that and there's nothing to running wide open. You just hold it down and loosen the car up enough until you get ready to wreck and then you just try and hang on and tighten it up a little and go from there. What you got is what you got."
WILL THIS BE THE TOUGHEST TRACK YET FOR THE ONE-ENGINE RULE? "I think this will be similar to Atlanta. The only difference here from Atlanta, at least at Atlanta we do have some variance in rpms. But to answer the question, yes this will be. I was going to try to explain why but might not do a very good job. The rpms are not going to vary very much from max to min, and that's what hurts the motors a lot when they just sit there and run in the same rpm range all day, so at tracks like this that's going to be a problem. So to date, this will be the toughest place. Atlanta is similar to it, but it's not as bad as this place is going to be this time."
WHAT ARE THE G-FORCES LIKE HERE AND HAVE YOU MADE ADJUSTMENTS TO YOUR SEAT TO HANDLE IT? "You go through the corners so fast. I was watching a little bit on qualifying on TV last night, and 183, maybe 184 through the corners was the slowest you get to. You're going through there so fast, and we didn't run but 10 or 12 laps down here at a time in testing. So I came back with a headrest and put another inch of foam on it, and I usually never use it. I put more foam on it just in case something does happen or just in case there is a lot of G-forces out there and after 200 laps or 150 laps it's like my neck's giving out. I usually don't even use it, but I have it here because it's a little higher Gs than what we've seen at other times."
WILL YOU DO A LONG RUN IN PRACTICE TO KIND OF SEE HOW YOUR BODY WILL REACT? "Probably not. With the two 45-minute sessions, it kind of limits what you can do anyway. You can't really get out there and run. When it was an hour session and an hour session, you could make changes. Now you can't really make any changes and still make a long run. If you've got to stop halfway in between, and by the time you get in the garage and make a change and go out, there's just 10 minutes left sometimes. So we probably won't be able to run that many laps in a row today unless we just start and the car's perfect and we just run until practice is over."
WHEN YOU TESTED HERE YOU ALSO TESTED A CHEVROLET. HOW DID IT COMPARE WITH THE PONTIAC AND IS THERE A CHANCE YOU WOULD RACE IT THIS YEAR? "The Chevy was pretty good. Obviously we had a problem with the Pontiac (accident) and didn't get to run it the amount of time we'd like to have, but the Chevy handled really good, felt really good. It was a good racecar for a chassis that was older and probably not up to the standards of today's newer-built cars and it felt pretty good. Obviously we're not going to run it, but we just wanted to see what the differences were, see if we can make our Pontiacs better somehow, someway, and see what we have to work with."
WITH ALL OF THE ADDITIONS TO THE RACECAR INSIDE, WHAT'S THE VISIBILITY? "It's pretty good straight ahead, right and left is really bad, and looking in the mirror is still about the same. It does get pretty tight in there as far as working on things. You do have a lot of stuff, shoulder pieces and what not, so visibility does get kind of tough in there sometimes. I was talking to (brother) Terry the other day and we were taliking about spotters somewhere, and he said 'in '84 I didn't even have a spotter.' You didn't even have spotters, but you look at the cars back then and you watch some of the older races, you could see everything around you. Now it's so tight and confined you can't see sometimes because of so many blind spots. That's why you've got to have a spotter now."
DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL LESS IN CONTROL THAN YOU DID 10 YEARS AGO? "No, not really. I don't think so. Some other guys might say differently. One thing about it, with everything you've got, you feel a whole lot better if something does happen. That's always a positive. But as far as getting in the car and getting strapped down and having all that stuff around you, it doesn't make you feel any different, it just limits your vision some. A lot of times pulling in and out of the garage is the hardest part because you can't see around the corner sometimes, and when you back up you can't see so somebody will help you back up a lot of times. But as far as the racetrack goes, you really don't feel that limited, and you've obviously got your spotter probably helping you more now than you probably did say 10 or 15 years ago."
WITH THE INCREASED COSTS OF RACING, ARE THERE MORE DEMANDS FROM THE SPONSORS WITH REGARD TO THEM HAVING TO PAY MORE MONEY? "I'd say yes in a lot of ways. That just kind of goes hand in hand in some ways. Our sponsors are great to work with. You can say it is in some instances, but in other instances from my point of view they haven't said since they're paying more money over the past two years than the two years prior to that they're going to use me 20 more times. It doesn't really graduate like that. But obviously there's a lot more pressure on everybody to do better, to get their sponsor's name out in front of everybody, so you're concerned about that and always try and make that better. The owners might see more of that, like the visibility-on-the-car part of it, than basically sitting me down and saying we're pay "X" more dollars this year than we did last year so we're going to bump this up or do this and that."
SO THE SPONSORS ARE MORE INTERESTED IN THE VISIBILITY THEY GET THROUGH THE MEDIA THAN THEIR OWN PERSONAL APPEARANCES? "Like I said, in some ways yes and in some ways no. It just depends on the circumstances. Obviously this week here I've done more than I do if we go to Pocono because our sponsor's located here, which is no different than the first time we ran here. Then again, trust me the better you do on the racetrack it makes it a whole lot better the rest of the time."
CAN YOU EMPATHIZE WITH THE STRUGGLES YOUR BROTHER TERRY HAS HAD OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS? "He's had some tough times getting everything worked out as far as changes in the crew trying to get everything back to par to what the competition level is today. I hate it for him, but it seems like they've made a corner and they can see light at the end of the tunnel now. It's a tough deal once you get that far back in points and everything, it just seems like it's a struggle to get back up there. It's pretty tough. Talking to him week in and week out, he handles it a lot better than I would. He's pretty tough when it comes down to it, so he's not going to let it get him."
IF THERE IS SO MUCH GRIP HERE, WHY IS THERE NO SECOND GROOVE? "For the average driver, it's kind of hard for me to figure out, too. I don't know why. I know Sterling (Marlin) tested here, and I've tested at new tracks before too, done the Goodyear tire test at brand-new facilities or repaved facilities. The first lap I make at a racetrack is on the bottom because I know that's the fastest way around obviously. I don't know if it just comes from the first 100 laps put down right there. If those first laps were run on the upper groove, would that be the place?
I don't really understand it, but maybe in layman's terms, when you go out there and run, you're going to run the bottom of the racetrack. You're going to lay down more rubber there and that's where the grip is right away. I think if they put cones up on the inside groove and we ran at 198 miles per hour, or average speeds of 188, you could put more rubber down on the top side and you might have two grooves, but you've got to be going that fast to put really good rubber down. It just turns out to be that the shortest way around, the fastest way around, is on the bottom. We're going to go out there and we're going to run the bottom because we're not worried about putting rubber down on the topside instead of going fast. We want to go fast. When 40 cars do it for two hours in practice, and those guys do it for two hours in practice, and two more hours here and there, it's going to get just laid down there. Testing for two days, everbody's going to run the bottom. They're not going to say I might run the topside because when I get back here I might want to run there. You're not going to do that because you're going to want to go as fast as you can. So all the good rubber goes to the bottom, and when you get up a little bit there's no real good rubber there and you lose grip. Until the track seepens in, and then to each his own."