Makar, Benson, Bliss Charlotte preview

DETROIT (Oct. 4, 2000) - With so much emphasis placed on racing for points each week in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, one could wonder if anybody changes their approach to races run during the late stage of the season. The points battle has been...

DETROIT (Oct. 4, 2000) - With so much emphasis placed on racing for points each week in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, one could wonder if anybody changes their approach to races run during the late stage of the season. The points battle has been narrowed to a handful of elite teams, which leaves everyone else racing for reasons other than the Winston Cup title.

With just six races to go in the 2000 season, Interstate Batteries Grand Prix driver Bobby Labonte holds a 213-point lead over Dale Earnhardt in the Winston Cup standings. With a championship in sight, one could argue that Labonte would be justified if he started racing defensively, instead of trying to win races down the stretch. But Labonte's crew chief, Jimmy Makar, who has quarterbacked Labonte's best season ever, says that's not the case.

While Labonte pursues his first title, Aaron's Grand Prix driver Johnny Benson continues to take steps toward his first career victory. Benson, who is currently 14th in points, has a realistic shot at finishing 11th in the final standings, which would equal his best career points mark. But even with that accomplishment in view, Benson and his teammates are interested in only one thing during the next six races, and that is winning a race.

Meanwhile, Viagra Grand Prix driver Mike Bliss heads into the final six races of his rookie season ranked 41st in points and also has his sights focused on just one goal. Bliss is job-hunting for 2001 and is hoping whatever he achieves in the final stretch of the season will turn enough heads to find employment in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

THOUGHTS FROM JIMMY MAKAR, CREW CHIEF, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

...do you change anything in your approach or focus coming down the stretch as the points leader?: "I don't think so. It's always a matter of being focused. That's the main thing. You can't be distracted by things going on around you - what other teams are doing. You've got to stay focused on your team, what you're doing - right or wrong - and then just try to do the very best every week. The easy thing to do is get focused on your competition, but focusing on those guys can't make you do any better, so it's a negative thing to use your energies to be thinking about the other guys. I try to make sure everybody stays focused on our things and on things that they can make a difference on, which is our race team."

...how difficult is it to not back off when you have a lead this size?: "Right now it's not too difficult because we're all still trying to get to the racetrack and win races. My personal goal, inside of me, I still would like to win five races this year by the time the year is out, so we've got some work to do to get there. I don't think it's out of the question. It's definitely something we can do. Like we've been saying all along, the points take care of themselves based on how you run week in and week out. So if we don't go out there and run good week in and week out, we're going to lose points. I want to finish this season with the same point lead that we have right now, at worst." (continued, p. 2)

"What I'd like to do is go out and beat the competition that we're racing for the points every week by at least one position. I feel like we can run with these guys week in and week out and it's been that way all year long."

THOUGHTS FROM JOHNNY BENSON, NO. 10 AARON'S PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

...will the team be willing to sacrifice some points to have a chance to win a race this year?: "Absolutely. You're not sacrificing points because, if you're trying to go for a win, you're trying to gain points. You gamble every race, so I don't think taking a gamble is sacrificing points. If you're running in the top 10, are you going to make a conservative stop just to save your points? I don't believe that that's true in anybody's case. I think that they are going to do what they can to win the race. That's what everybody is here for. I can't even say Bobby Labonte would be conservative because he is not going to lose his points lead trying to be conservative. He is going to try to make sure he is running good and running up front. He's not going to take any chances. But if they do, they are good enough to know that the chances that they do take come with a good percentage of being beneficial to them."

"In our case, we'll take chances or gambles to win any race. I think that happens all year. I don't think it matters what race you do it at. Daytona (500) was good example. We were running 12th. We came in, got two tires, came out in the lead and had a good opportunity to win that race. It didn't work, we got shuffled and we ended up 12th. Well, that's where I was before the gamble, so I didn't lose anything. If anything, we gained something. We gained five points for leading the race. We gained a lot of exposure and got an opportunity to win the race, so sometimes taking gambles won't necessarily cost you anything."

...which would you choose: finish 11th in the 2000 points with no wins, or finish 18th in points with a victory?: "I think you're going to take the victory. The good that you will do for everybody on this team - knowing that you can win a race, proving that you can win a race - the long-term value of that is far more important. The difference between 11th and 18th in points is a huge difference, but not enough to keep you out of the Daytona 500 next year, so we'll take that chance."

THOUGHTS FROM MIKE BLISS, NO. 27 VIAGRA PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

...are you racing any differently knowing that you won't be in this car next year?: "I am. Number one, I don't have a job so I've got to turn some heads to get a job. I haven't done it yet, and that's why my phone's not ringing. I'm still driving like this is my ride. I guess I still haven't told myself that this isn't my ride. I just put it out of my head. Kenny Wallace comes around once in a while and reminds me that this is his ride (next year), but for now it's still mine. Like I said, I have to turn some heads to get another job."

...do you think you will lose any of your intensity in this car at some point down the stretch?: "No, I don't think so. We're still racing. We race for positions. If we're 25th and we have a chance to go for 22nd, then we'll still try to do that. I just think about each race as they come. This week I'm thinking about this race and want to do the best that I can."

...do you look at the point standings at all?: "No. I'm so far back it doesn't matter to me."

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Labonte , Mike Bliss