Labonte - Ford media tour interview

Bobby Labonte was officially introduced today as driver of the No. 96 Ask.com Ford Fusion, owned by Hall of Fame Racing and operated by Yates Racing. Labonte, along with Ask.com CEO Jim Safka and HOF owner Tom Garfinkel spoke on the second day of...

Bobby Labonte was officially introduced today as driver of the No. 96 Ask.com Ford Fusion, owned by Hall of Fame Racing and operated by Yates Racing. Labonte, along with Ask.com CEO Jim Safka and HOF owner Tom Garfinkel spoke on the second day of the Lowe's Motor Speedway media tour in Concord, NC.

TOM GARFINKEL, Owner, Hall of Fame Racing

"I'm just thrilled. Jeff Moorad couldn't be here today, but Jeff and I are both thrilled to be associated with Ask.com and Yates Racing. I've known Doug Yates and Robert for over a decade now and have gotten to know them as class people and great racers and we're just thrilled to be associated with Doug, with Max Jones, and everybody over at Yates Racing. When Jim and I first met, one of the first things we talked about was timing in this sport and what was happening in this sport and what the opportunity was in this sport. And in Jim and the rest of the Ask.com leadership team, we found a potential sponsor who was really courageous, creative and innovative, and came in with a very open mind on how to do things. I think you're gonna see that what Ask.com is doing is an integrated program, multi-faceted across many different areas of NASCAR and for that reason, it's really gonna make a big splash. That combined with the timing and the brilliance of the marketing that's associated with it. So we're thrilled to be associated with Ask.com. We know that Ask.com is gonna provide answers and provide a service to NASCAR fans that hasn't been provided in the past. One other note that I want to mention is just how excited we are to have Bobby driving the race car. This is a championship-caliber driver, obviously, but almost as importantly or more importantly is I've gotten to know Bobby over the course of these past couple of years pretty well and Bobby is a real class person as we all know. He is an individual that carries himself with integrity and has a tremendous amount of character, a great work ethic, a great family and really represents everything that we've always aspired in our race car drivers, so we're thrilled to have you on board and couldn't be happier with the result and happy to get the season started."

BOBBY LABONTE -- No. 96 Ask.com Ford Fusion

"I'm still pinching myself because this is a great, great opportunity. I don't look at this as a job. I think it's a great opportunity with Tom and Jim. They can tell you more about Ask.com coming on board, especially like Tom said, at a time like this. Jim, thank you so much for doing this. This is a great opportunity. The Roush folks have been great to work with the past couple of weeks with their marketing and everything and there's just a lot of things happening really fast for me. I'm gonna probably take a little time to reminisce as we go here because as we talked about over the winter time with a few of you guys, things were not certain about what I was gonna do, so the timing was great. Again, I look forward to seeing Ask.com on the race car shortly. It's a great Ford Fusion and I look forward to it. We'll all be doing 360s out in the parking lot in a minute, so we can all get out there and ride around and do some 360s, but it's really quite an honor. I can't wait to get to the race track to do what I do best and that's drive that race car. That's what the bottom line is. Like Tom said, with Doug Yates and Yates Racing running the deal, that's gonna be quite an opportunity and Todd Parrott, being involved with him again, I'm just elated. It's been a fast week because it was a few days ago I was trying to get this deal done, so it's a great opportunity and I can't wait to get to Daytona. I don't have all the details of what Jim is gonna be doing as far as the marketing stuff goes. I've heard some snippets of stuff and you guys are gonna activate this program really well and I'm just looking forward to being a part of it. Hopefully, I'm a great partner for you and I know that I'll be giving 100 percent. I can't wait to see the activation of this program and get to Daytona and try to win the Daytona 500 because that's what it's all about -- racing -- and make you guys proud. Thank you again for doing this and I can't wait to see that race car. It's gonna be exciting and I can't wait to talk to all of you. It's one of those things where I have to admit that sometimes after doing this for awhile you kind of do some of these things or you do the photo shoots and you're like, 'OK, I've got to go do another photo shoot,' and do all that stuff, but I am freaking excited about this. Sometimes when you sit on the sidelines for a little bit and you're kind of watching, even though it wasn't but for a short period of time, I'm not complaining about a thing. It's gonna be great. The big thing, like I said, is getting on the race track. That's what it's gonna be about, so thanks again for bringing me into the family, and for the partnership with Yates Racing and everybody involved with the Ford Fusion. I'm looking forward to it and can't wait to get to the race track."

Q&A SESSION

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT NASCAR THAT MADE YOU JUMP IN?

JIM SAFKA, CEO, Ask.com: "It is kind of a doom and gloom environment out there. The first race I attended was this last year at Homestead at the invitation of Tom and Jeff Moorad and I joined with them and it was interesting. It was an extraordinary experience to see a race in person, but one of the things I kept hearing in the backstage in the garages was that after the race there were gonna be a lot of people laid off, so there was a little melancholy at the same time. Then I think everybody has seen what's happened since with this economic environment and it really breaks my heart. I'm always a little bit contrarian, so my belief is when other folks are battening down the hatches, it's a good time to stick your head up above the foxhole and see where there might be some opportunities. One of the things that became apparent to me with NASCAR, and I've been in a lot of sports marketing over the years with the NFL and baseball and been in other programs with celebrities as well, but one of the things that became apparent about NASCAR is it's not just a sport, it's a lifestyle and it's packed with emotion. From a marketing standpoint, that's gold -- emotion is -- so my belief is that if we put our heart and soul into this sport, which we are doing, that the NASCAR fans would see that and will appreciate the authenticity of it and they'll appreciate that in an economic time like this that we're supporting the sport at a league level, at a team level, at a network level and at a track level, and the NASCAR fan will see that and recognize it. We just have a very simple affect because our product is pretty simple. It's a search engine and it's the best search engine on the planet. I'm a little biased, but it is a real good search engine, so we want a simple affect which is for the NASCAR fan to use our search engine instead of that other one and we'll support your sport, and we'll support it in a good way. We'll support the league, we'll support a team, we'll support the networks, we'll support everybody in the sport, just use our search engine. We're doing a lot of things with NASCAR to make sure, especially with any questions that are NASCAR-related, that we deliver the best answer for the fans. In this economic time, it's not easy for anybody, it's not easy for us, so this is a big, big bet on our part and the bet is that the fans will see us and will recognize us and will support us."

WAS IT SCARY THERE WITHOUT A RIDE FOR AWHILE? WERE YOU AFRAID THERE WOULDN'T BE A SEAT AT THE TABLE?

BOBBY LABONTE:"Yeah, but I was always pretty good at the Father's Day Olympics of trying to be the last one in the chair, so I had a little experience with it. I definitely had a feeling. I didn't want to be the odd man out or anything like that. There's other things that were happening and it just seemed like after Homestead everything kind of shut down. I think everybody needed a break and everybody needed a little skiing trip or vacation or whatever and then once January rolled around business started picking back up, but, yeah, up until then I was just trying to figure out and get myself lined up to do something. So there were days that were worse than other days, but I kind of felt like before Daytona rolled around, it's just kind of one of these things where you end up that people are more focused on after the first of the year getting ready for Daytona because it's gonna happen and things start shaking out a little bit. At times it was a little tough, but I just stayed tried and true and prayed a lot and things turned out way, way better than I thought, so I feel very fortunate."

ARE YOUR EUROPEAN BRANCHES INVOLVED IN RACING AND WHAT KIND OF INNOVATIONS WILL YOU HAVE IN SEARCH ENGINE TECHNOLOGY?

JIM SAFKA: "We're a worldwide company. No matter where on the planet you are, you can find Ask.com. We're in many different languages, and NASCAR is making it's way across the planet and into Europe, but our racing program is starting here. We're gonna see how it does and then potentially take it over the pond and see what kind of opportunities there are over there. But I will say this, NASCAR is very unique and it's very American. It's unlike anything I've ever seen before. Like I said, it's a lifestyle, it's a marketing channel and it's packed with emotion and there's a way to reach all the fans, so I hope and pray that it works and, if it does, we'll look to replicate it overseas, but right now our program is limited to what we're doing here. With respect to technology, it's very exciting. Our company, since we decided to make this commitment to NASCAR, it's been all hands on deck. We're focused on something that's called semantic search and what semantic search means is very simple. It means that in the search box, you can enter a question in plain English and you'll get an answer in plain English, so it's very different from how people have been trained over the years with a search engine and how to structure a query. On average, it takes most people three tries to structure a query right befor they get the information that they're looking for and our goal is to make it in one try, so you put in one question and you get the answer you're looking for the first time everytime. With semantic search, we want to take that nonsense out where you're trying to figure out how to structure and how to structure it so you get the right answer. You can ask the question like, 'What was the fastest qualifying time at Talladega in 1972?' And it will give you the answer. That's what we're headed towards, and one of the ways we can do this -- I don't want to get into too much technology because it will probably bore you -- but there is structured data and unstructured data. Structured data is stuff like race results, driver performance, etc. The more structured data that we can get, the better that we can be in delivering search results and delivering natural language answers to nature language questions. One of the things we found with NASCAR and our relationship with NASCAR is we're getting access to all of the data -- the video date, the text data and all of the images from the beginning of time. We're indexing it all and putting it into a structured database, so we can return great results for whatever your NASCAR query is. So from a technological standpoint, you're gonna see us break new ground in the search category and our showcase for this technology is gonna be the sport of NASCAR."

BOBBY LABONTE -- No. 96 Ask.com Ford Fusion

WHAT HAS YOU SO PUMPED UP ABOUT THIS OPPORTUNITY? "Obviously, Ask.com is a great sponsor. They're a great search engine and they're gonna activate the program, so I know that's gonna be a huge, huge thing. You're gonna see a lot of Ask.com logos at the race track, not just on the race car, but they're gonna advertise it a little bit and I think that's gonna be great for the sport. That's something we could use right now."

IS THIS A NEW LEASE ON LIFE? "It really is. After Homestead last year, I think everybody from a long year and a long schedule that everybody gets to a point where they want to relax and not do anything for a little bit. That's how I felt, but I didn't have the next chapter written yet. I don't want to say that I lost hope, but obviously throughout Christmas and New Year's, I wasn't real sure. There was something here and something there, but it wasn't what I envisioned or hoped for for my career, so it's a new chapter. I get to come in and start with a fresh pen and it's a great opportunity. As a twist of fate or whatever, it's not just an oh-by-the-way here's something for you to do, it's a darn great opportunity that I do not consider a job. Like I said a while ago, this is some great equipment. We all know that, so it's gonna be a lot of fun. I know Todd (Parrott) and I are excited about this and you just know this is one of the best opportunities you can have."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE GOT SOMETHING TO PROVE? "Oh yeah. Again, I've spent the last three years at Petty's, which was great, but obviously this is a great opportunity also and it gets to the point where I can hopefully be a part of a program that is established in a lot of ways, but they've got fast race cars and great people working there, so it's a matter of executing that."

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DROVE A FORD? "On the race track I drove one a couple years ago for Clarence Brewer in the Nationwide Series. Dodge was nice enough to let me do that, and then my first ride for Bill Davis was in a Ford, so that's been a while back (1993), but when you chase them on Sundays, you know how fast they are, so that's gonna be awesome."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORK WITH YATES? "I think that's what's so great about Doug and Max and everybody at Yates Racing. Yes, Robert was in this sport and Doug has kind of taken over his part of it and obviously his deal is the engines and Max runs the day-to-day stuff. With Tom and Jeff being part owners in this venture also, they're business guys that flirted with the ownership part of racing, but this kind of puts us in a little better atmosphere for those guys, but, at the same time, with Doug being around awhile, the changes that happen in this sport they change with it. They're not stuck on, 'this is how we did it back whenever.' So knowing with these guys coming in, Jim with Ask.com, it's a great sponsor and it's gonna help bring a lot of attention to NASCAR, especially at a time when we need it. Knowing that we've got great race cars and great people and have a lot of resources there, in my eyes, I see big but I'm sure over the next six months I will see a whole lot more. I'm a week and two hours into the deal, so I'm excited to see more than what I've already seen and get in the race car and know what you feel one day and get used to it and get comfortable with it like an old shoe."

HOW WILL IT BE TO HAVE A STABLE OF DRIVERS TO TALK WITH? "It's gonna be new for me. I sent a text to Paul (Menard) last night because I haven't talked to him yet, so I sent him a text last night. I was at my daughter's birthday party dinner and he sent me a text back at the end of the day, so we're excited. And with Travis and all those other guys that are part of the Roush group, it's gonna be great to be able to go talk to them. I've talked to them for years. I know all of them, but when you have a question that you might want to ask, I would never ask it before because there might be privacy issues or something like that, so this is gonna give me the opportunity to actually go talk to those guys if I have a question. Obviously, I hope they can say the same thing about me, so that's gonna be great for me because there have been a lot of times in the past few years that I might not have really had that answer come from somebody or I couldn't really ask that question. Now I'm not gonna be bashful about it, so I'm gonna have to go do it."

HAS THIS GIVEN YOU A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON THINGS? "Yeah, I think so. I've kind of cleansed out of this whole deal from the winter time. Some people's windows were doom and gloom, but I saw a guy the other night, he was by the shop, I don't know, he was up there in age and he's like, 'Yeah, I've been through this before. This isn't my first rodeo,' as far as being through tough economic times. Nobody wants to do it, but at the same time, without getting into detail about what my thought is or my opinion is, a reset button is OK and there are things that we all need to do because we all still want to race and we all want to go out and do the best we can for our sponsor and team owners, but at the same time, I know NASCAR has done all they can do to try and save costs, but at the same time, we all want to go racing and it would be great to go back where it used to be fifty-some-odd cars would go to the races and if some guys can do it for less money and be competitive, then that's great. It needs to kind of be like that. I need to tell one story, back in 1990 I started my Busch team back then and I had four employees and we ran all the races. They had sixty-some-odd cars go to Daytona in February and by Volusia County it was like 26 cars is all they had. It was just a tough time. Well about two years later somebody said, 'Yeah, there was a recession back in 1990.' We just didn't know it. You just raced. So I guess NASCAR did all they could do, but this reset button -- somehow someway is gonna help control that cost. It's just gonna have to happen without them trying, but it was a tough one and this is a great opportunity. Sometimes you get kind of like tired of doing things, but you never get tired of doing this."

IS THIS TEAM READY TO HIT THE GROUND RUNNING? "They're ready. Max and Doug are gonna be running the deal as far as that goes and Tom and Jeff, they're a partner in it and they have a lot to bring to the table and a lot to offer, but as far as the race cars go and the team and the personnel and everything, it was all in place."

WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST CONCERN RIGHT NOW? "Just going to the race track. I haven't been in a race car, obviously, since Homestead -- maybe some other guys haven't been in a race car either -- but if things were status quo from last year and say driving the 43 car would be the next race that you would do in that car, well you kind of already know the people and all that stuff and the setups and you go over that stuff with your crew chief, so that's what you know. This is just different because I'm not sure that we'll hit a race track before Daytona, so there are a lot of different things that happen with this Ford Fusion and a lot of different things setup-wise that I haven't felt in my rear end yet or my hands yet. You can see it, you can look at it, you can touch it, but if it's not moving 190 miles an hour, there's a different feel to it. I say it's a concern, but I don't care. It's still a great opportunity. I don't care. That's what's gonna be the fun part. I'm looking forward to that more than anything. Even though it's an unknown, it's the part that just says, 'Heck, let's go do it.'"

WHEN WAS IT APPARENT YOU WEREN'T GOING TO BE BACK WITH PETTY? "I think it came at different times. Probably the first practice at Homestead I didn't figure that we would be back next year. I thought maybe the first week after Homestead I thought, 'Well, there's still a chance.' It was kind of touch-and-go there for awhile until the final release papers were done. It was just unfortunate times for those guys from Boston Ventures. I hated to see that for them, but if they would have been there two years ago, they would have rode this storm out, which a lot of people will do and those guys who are strong will do that, but it was just unfortunate and I felt like the writing was on the wall. I tried not to believe it for a long time, but looking back on it it was there, I just didn't want to believe it."

WITH THE SUCCESS YATES HAS HAD AT DAYTONA. HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL GETTING IN ONE OF THEIR CARS AND HAVING THAT RACE ON THE HORIZON? "I'm looking forward to that. That's all the talk has been in the shop about how there's a chance to win the pole. Todd and I worked together three years ago, so when I got over there the other day he said, 'We've got a lot of unfinished business to do.' We qualified sixth for the 500 the first race he was on board and even in July we had a top three or four and got taken out with a few laps to go, so, yes, obviously the Yates horsepower is unbelievable and I can wait to get my butt in it and feel firsthand, but when you feel it and you know it, it's an awesome feeling to know that I know only have a great opportunity, but I told my wife, 'This thing could win the pole for the Daytona 500.' I mean, you're already thinking that, so it's not like you're just saying, 'Hey, let's go and do something else.' Those guys are 24/7 on knowing they have the opportunity to do that, so I'm excited about that."

WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE GANASSI SITUATION? "That was another great opportunity that Chip and I talked about, but he just didn't have a lot of the things in order to make it work for the whole season. There was a lot of if's in there, but the more I talked to Chip, the more I appreciated what he's about and what he's doing. I don't think a lot of people know him that well and I got to know him in the offseason a little bit, and he wouldn't want to stand in the way of me having a great opportunity, but I definitely have a lot of respect for him as a car owner and how tough it is out there. It was one of those deals where my dad would get home and he would call me and say, 'I've got someone asking me what you're gonna do next year,' and I said, 'I'm not sure yet.' So they would ask him and he would say, 'He doesn't know.' So even though there was a lot of stuff being said on the internet and the TV, it really wasn't quite secure yet. I think a lot of people had me in that situation, but it wasn't done. That's just the way it is and it happens sometimes."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT PETTY ENTERPRISES AND THEIR NEW DEAL? "I guess I saw this morning on the news, I missed it last night, but saw they announced the new name of the team and that's great for Richard. I had the volume down, so I didn't hear any comments, but it's part of the change of the sport and the world. It happens. You hate to see it, but maybe this will be a great opportunity for him that he was able to get on his own."

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE THE ONLY NATIONWIDE AND CUP CHAMPION? "That's awesome. I take a lot of pride in that. When I won in 1991 and almost backed it up in '92, that was my own car. I had my own employees that worked for me and I paid all the bills and I didn't have anyone else own it but myself, so that was a great accomplishment back then racing against a lot of great drivers. And then to follow it up in 2000 with a Cup championship, it's a cool deal. As much as I know guys have tried to win a championship in both series and haven't done it yet, I'm kind of hoping it stays that way for awhile. It would be nice to be able to hold onto that for a little bit longer."

WHY DIDN'T YOU COME OUT AND SAY SOME MEDIA REPORTS WEREN'T RIGHT? "Well, nothing was sure just yet that everybody was not 100 percent wrong, it just wasn't 100 percent right. I mean, I figured if I stopped and said, 'Stop talking or writing,' that it would be worse than not having it out there anyway. I did learn those lessons from being in the sport this long that if nobody is talking about you, you're nothing. You know the talk might not have been 100 percent accurate, but at least there was talk so some press is better than no press, we all know that. I couldn't really say, like I said, it was 100 percent wrong because not all of it was."

ON A SCALE OF 1-10 HOW CLOSE WAS IT TO BEING RIGHT? DID YOU GET TO 90 PERCENT WITH HIM? "Yeah, probably so. That would have been great, too, but, obviously this was an opportunity that presented itself of secure, let's go racing for the year and be competitive. So I knew that was gonna be the place that I needed to be."

WHAT CHANGED AT THE LAST SECOND? "I can't do that but I appreciate you asking because I'm not sure -- I think it's a made-for-sitcom TV show, horror movie and drama all in one, so it was kind of wild. Maybe over some period of time I could tell you, but just right now. It was kind of tough. The thing I probably learned out of this whole deal, and you hope you learn something out of it, was in talking to Chip, when I did talk to him, I just respect him way more than knew him. So that was good. What a neat guy, so that was fun to get to know him better, but, at the same time, this is second to none. This is the best opportunity I could have."

WHAT WAS HIS REACTION WHEN YOU TOLD HIM? "It was kind of funny. He kind of called it, so he called it. Again, this is all good. I think that they were gonna be OK. There were probably some question marks in there but that's the tough times of it. You wish that you could say, 'Here's everything to make it all work,' but you couldn't do that. That's just the way it was. This is a great opportunity for me and for me to say it's secure, it's got to be up to me to make sure that I am secure."

WHAT'S THE REALISTIC POTENTIAL FOR THIS TEAM THIS YEAR? "I think with the resources that they have and the people they have surrounding it, just the opportunity and the desire and all that stuff, I'm not sure I want to set a goal today. I'm learning a lot of things as I go with those guys as far as a different team. There are some opportunities I don't know about yet, but I know goals are obviously to win but I just don't know what yet. If it's to win poles, win races and top-12s and make the chase and all that stuff, I think all of that is desirable and obtainable, but we just have to go out there and prove it. It's all there, we just have to make it all happen."

WERE YOU NOT PART OF THE MERGER TALKS WITH PETTY? WHAT LED TO THAT? "I knew that they were gonna do that, but it was kind of when I was getting ready to get my exit papers. That was something that maybe could have happened with me, but those guys, I signed a four-year contract with them and that was heavy baggage for those guys that I had, so, anyway, it was just best to part ways and go on and hope that they did what they ended up doing."

DID IT HAVE TO HAPPEN BECAUSE OF FINANCIAL BURDENS? "I did. It was better for me to reset my button and start over because the baggage that I had wasn't what they needed, so we just needed to kind of make a reset and go and they were unsure at the time that the merger would work, so it was just kind of one of those things."

WAS THAT ONE OF THE MORE DIFFICULT DECISIONS IN YOUR CAREER? "Yeah, it was. There are a lot of great people there. I thought back in the summertime when I agreed to stay that it was an opportunity to keep building that deal and pour the right amount of money into it to make it bigger and better. It just didn't work out that way."

WAS THERE A POINT WHERE YOU SAW THE WRITING ON THE WALL? "Kind of. I mean, it was just, like I said a while ago, it was unfortunate for those guys that they had to do what they did. Had they been in the sport two years ago, I think they would have rode out the storm pretty good, but it just didn't work out. They got into it at a time when they got kind of hit below the knees."

LOWE'S IS GOING TO BE CELEBRATING ITS 50TH ANNIVERSARY THIS YEAR. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THERE? "I don't think it's just being close in everybody's back yard, but I can say I've raced a go-kart there, an enduro car there, and I went down there for a weekend to kind of hang out and I think I was like 18 and I was changing valve springs on a car for Tex Powell. That was kind of cool memory because you don't really get to do that. I know I tested there in a Busch Grand National car and came back the next day and picked up like a second-and-a-half from the first day. I moved my seat around a little bit. I've had Mark Martin drive my car there. I won my first race there in 1995 with Joe Gibbs and beat Earnhardt again in 2000. I had like three or four second-place finishes in the Coke 600 and should have won them, but just got screwed up at the end of the race. Jeff Burton won one or two of them, I think, but it's just one of those places that you go to that has characteristics of its own -- like Atlanta, like Texas, like some places that have characteristics of change -- but Lowe's Motor Speedway just has the appeal. You've got fast, you've got speed, oh-by-the-way you've got multiple grooves. Even though some things don't change, when they repave it it's still the same type of race track and the configuration hasn't changed, so it's just one of those places that is a blast for me to race at because it's either comfortable and/or exciting."

MOST PEOPLE DON'T LEAVE A JOB WITHOUT HAVING ANOTHER ONE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ISSUE OF NOT HAVING A RIDE LINED UP AT THAT TIME? "I didn't have anything whenever I got out of my deal. I wasn't sure what the next chapter was gonna be. It might have been blank for a while, but I definitely didn't have anything and wasn't secure I'd get anything, but I knew that it needed to kind of flush before I started over again."

WHEN DID YOU START WITH THIS DEAL? A DAY OR TWO BEFORE IT HAPPENED? "No. I actually talked to Doug Yates in a helicopter and I was a little disappointed with my day and he was a little disappointed with their day and we looked at each other and I think we were seeing something in each other that was kind of like, 'Gee, I wish we could do something different.' I never even talked to anybody until my deal was officially signed that I was a free agent, which, by the way, is a bad time to be a free agent (laughing). And he was one of the first persons I called and that was early December, but the ball never started rolling until after the first of the year because it was just premature. Jim, Ask.com and Tom and Jeff and all those guys were in stages of where they were and it wasn't finished like it is today. Actually with Tom, I rode in a helicopter with him about three years ago, that's where I met him for the first time and we actually talked several times since then about opportunities and things and what they do and me and my family and all that stuff, so it seemed like the helicopter deal was working out for me as far as relationships go and opportunities go. I can't answer Max because I'm not sure when the date was, but it was kind of ironic that Doug was the guy that I looked at eye-to-eye that night going, 'Yep, I'm kind of in the same boat.'"

DID THEY TELL YOU YOU'RE GETTING TODD PARROTT? "Todd didn't know until they told the crew guys at the same time, so he had no idea. So he wasn't involved in any of the discussions about when it was gonna happen or whatever, but I sent him a text the night before I went to the shop and he was pumped up and excited. That was a great feeling."

DO YOU BRING ANYTHING FROM WHEN YOU WORKED TOGETHER BEFORE? "He worked at the Petty's, he left Robert's deal and went up there, and, again, it was probably no different than three years ago -- we're all just a little bit older. We all went to the media tour up there and it was myself and Robbie and Richard and Todd. Todd came on board, but he left Yates, came up there and went back to Yates midway through the year. As much as he made us better and made me better, Yates was kind of his family. It was kind of hard that he left, but at the same time you understand. He wanted to be back home. It was a long drive for him everyday and it was tough. So we've got some unfinished business to do. I thought we did really good while he was there and we've got a lot more resources and between me and him, I hope we're a lot smarter and ready for this go-around just as we were last time."

HOW LONG IS YOUR DEAL? "I don't even know. I've got the contract in my bag and I'm not even sure."

IS THIS YOUR LAST DEAL? "I like Mark Martin's, he's on the fifth year of a one-year deal so I like that. I think that's pretty smart. I admire that. I think it's a great opportunity again. I hate to repeat myself, but I'm just very thankful to have what I have and tickled to be able to drive for these guys, and NASCAR fans should be really proud of what they're getting with Ask.com."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT BEING WITH FORD? "It's exciting to me. Like I said earlier, when you chase them on Sundays, you kind of wonder what they've got. Just to be hooked up with Tom and Doug and Yates engines and obviously the affiliation they have with Jack's group as far as chassis and stuff like that, it's gonna be great for me to understand about what goes on and what takes place. I know there will be a lot more that I'll learn the next few weeks to get to Daytona and after that, but I'm excited. I drove a Ford my first year in the Cup Series in '93, so this is a great opportunity for me. I guess that means I didn't burn a bridge when that deal went down and Bill (Davis) changed over to Pontiac, so I'm glad to be back. I'm very excited about it. I think I've driven for every manufacturer now, so it's nice to be back for round two."

-credit: ford racing

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Bobby Labonte , Max Jones , Mark Martin
Teams Hall of Fame Racing , Yates Racing