BOBBY LABONTE - NOTE: Sunday's victory in the Ford 400 was the second of the season for Labonte and the 21st of his career. It was also the 19th for Chevrolet this season, more than all the other manufacturers combined. He finished 8th in the...
BOBBY LABONTE - NOTE: Sunday's victory in the Ford 400 was the second of the season for Labonte and the 21st of his career. It was also the 19th for Chevrolet this season, more than all the other manufacturers combined. He finished 8th in the final Winston Cup point standings.
HIGH DRAMA HERE IN THE DEBUT OF THE NEW HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY. TALK ABOUT YOUR DAY TODAY.
"Anybody know how much I won? It's usually a high-paying race and I want to make sure it stays the same after the repaving [laughter]. Our day was definitely up and down, or down and then up. Our race car was noit very conducive to the track early on. It just seemed like we couldn't get a hold of the race track. It was really greasy. I'm not sure why the first caution happened, but there was a big wreck on the back straightaway. I don't know what started it and things like that, but we ran over some stuff, had to come in and fix the nose a little bit, put some tires on it and get back going. On that restart, we were second-from-last. We had a good race car after that, it just seemed like at the start of the race there wasn't any grip. We took off, and then we had an air wrench break on us and we dropped back after getting to 7th. We came back up there, fought hard all day and Michael McSwain made some good adjustments to the car. I hope I gave him some good feedback. The track kind of came to us, our race car got better. On the last lap, it looked like I was going to finish second unless something happened to Bill Elliott, and lo and behold, it did. He had a dominant race car. Did he lead every lap? It looked like he should have or did. He pulled away from me a lap or two before that happened off Turn 2, and he came off Turn 2 and that thing started getting loose. I thought, 'man, I hope he isn't running through oil because I'm going to run through the same thing.' But evidently his tire started going down and we were able to get by him. You can see my emotions on that last lap went from low to high pretty quick, because I didn't think we had any chance to beat him. I couldn't believe it after that happened, but his misfortune was our good fortune."
DID YOU HAVE ANY TIRE PROBLEMS?
"Yesterday in practice, we didn't have any problems. Our car was pretty comfortable, I thought, and it wasn't the fastest but it felt pretty good. The temperature wasn't going up and we didn't see any blistering or chunking, so that was pretty good. I don't think there was much problem today, although there was a cut tire on Bill Elliott's car, probably, and Michael Waltrip might have had a problem. Our car was pretty good and I thought we had a good hold on it. We didn't want to be too aggressive because it is a pretty fast race track and you can get in trouble if you do that."
TALK ABOUT THE EXCHANGE BETWEEN YOU AND MICHAEL AT THE END.
"That restart, my car was probably a little bit better on the end of the restarts than it was, obviously, at the beginning. We ran a few laps there, probably at the same speed, he might have pulled me a little bit and I might have gained on him half a tenth and he'd pull me a tenth and I'd gain on him a half a tenth. The last two laps before that, he just ran through the bottom of Turns 1 and 2, and he hadn't been doing that. I was like, 'whew, he can just get down there and go.' His car has been good for 10 weeks in a row, now. It wasn't like it was the first time. He was good all day, and he led 189 laps, in case you don't know that. He was just motoring away. With two to go, I said, 'I want this win more than he does, maybe, but his car is really good right now.' There's no way, unless something happened, that I was going to pass him. He just pulled away that last little bit off the corner, and as a driver you can feel that and see that. I saw it. I was going into the corner, getting on the gas as fast as I could and trying to get it turned as much as I could and he was just pulling me. His stuff was going."
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT IN 2004 WITH SO MANY GUYS CAPABLE OF WINNING A TITLE?
"It's good to finish on this note. I've won the last race three of the last seven or eight years. I won Atlanta twice the last year and I won this race here. It's always cool to win the last race because you can celebrate the offseason just a little longer than the next guy. I think that will be good for our team. Next year, you see guys like Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, we don't know what Bill Elliott's going to do, you have Tony and myself, hopefully, and you have the guys that finished in the top 10 this year and others that were knocking on the door of the top 10 and guys that are coming up that could be in the top 10 too. It's no different than last year, but there's a few different names. If those guys do their jobs right and don't have any bad luck throughout the year, there's going to be a lot of good cars. It's just going to come down to who is the most consistent again, and who doesn't have the bad luck to go along with the misfortunes that other people might have. Matt Kenseth only won one race, and the top-fives and top-10s are what you shoot for that is the key. A lot of guys can do that."
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A POSITION LIKE TODAY WHERE THE ROLES WERE REVERSED?
"I don't think on the last lap, like that. I've had it happen with a few laps to go, but not the last lap. At Michigan in a Busch race, I had a half-straightaway lead and ran out of gas with 12 laps to go or something like that. I was out the tunnel by the time the race was over, and my wife is like, 'what are you doing?' I said, 'I quit, it was my last race anyway. I wasn't running for points.' I've had similar situations, but not that close to the finish. That's got to be tough. Bill is such a great guy, and he had the car to win. For that to happen, that has to be upsetting. I'd say there's not anybody better to handle that than him, because he's pretty laid back. He's not going to go in there and scream and holler. He's been around long enough to see what's going to happen. His decision, for what's going to happen in the future, I hope that doesn't make it any different. But if he's going to be that good, I don't know. He's getting better. He shouldn't give up or quit."
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO MATT KENSETH IN TERMS OF REPEATING?
"You just try to tell him to do what he did this year. It's easier said than done. We tried the same thing. We were talking the other day, and Rusty Wallace said, 'man, I thought when I won my championship I was going to win 10 more.' It's just so hard after that, it seems like. You have a lot of momentum on your side until today and then you have to start over again. If you're second in points this year, you have No. 1 to go for. When you're first, it's a different type of thing to stay there. You just have to do the same thing they did this year, but they somehow think they're going to do better. You have to actually have to do better, because everybody else is doing better. You can't let it get to you."
DO YOU HAVE TO BE SMOOTH TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP OR IS IT MORE LIKE RYAN NEWMAN?
"I don't know. Things have changed. Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, some of those guys have put a little different twist on things this year. Matt Kenseth won one race this year, but he was still competitive week in and week out. It's not like he didn't try to win races, but he tried to finish in the top 10. Ryan and those guys tried to win races, and it got them caught some times, but they tried. It's not like Matt tried to finish 10th, but he finished 10th. It does put a different spin on it. I said last year that when the 12 car gets its act together and can run the whole race as fast as they do for 12 or 15 laps, they're going to be hard to beat. They were this year. That does make us all aware of what we have to do. They hit upon the right combination, the right balance. They wear the tires out evenly through the run, and that's a big deal now, especially when they don't wear out. My car doesn't get it. Not saying my car, but if my car doesn't wear tires as well as theirs does, they're getting better use out of their stuff than we are. We have to get better use out of our stuff. We have to be more chancy on pit road, take two tires or gas or stuff like that. It does change the way you think about things."
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE NEW TRACK?
"Did you look at the lap times? Holy cow. It was really fast. They did a great job here making a race track that was great to race on. We've gone to a lot of tracks for the first time in the last five or six years and it's single file, single file single file, and you never get a groove up there. This thing had a groove when we got here Wednesday when we showed up and I heard it had a groove on Monday and Tuesday. It had more than one groove, in the middle, down low and mid high. I think they did a great job. It was a great track to race on, real fast and it reminds you of Charlotte, Atlanta, Michigan and California. It has its own uniqueness, because it doesn't have a quad-oval, tri-oval type of deal. It will only get better. I'm sure it won't be as black when we come here next year because of the sun here."
THE RACE TODAY SET A RECORD FOR NUMBER OF CAUTIONS AND LAPS. DID THE NEW TRACK CONTRIBUTE TO THAT?
"With a track like this, you want to run two-wide. You have a lot better chance of getting into an accident running two-wide than you do running single-file. I think it just happened that way. A lot of times, the number of cautions today is with the lucky dog thing, because it takes them an extra laps or two to get things sorted out. The flags today, there were some crashes, some debris things, a couple of blown engines. A lot of guys were racing hard."