Friday morning press conference at PIR announcing 2000 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Bobby Labonte as driver of the No. 43 Petty Enterprises Dodge Charger in 2006. KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge Charger) "I'm excited to have Bobby...
Friday morning press conference at PIR announcing 2000 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Bobby Labonte as driver of the No. 43 Petty Enterprises Dodge Charger in 2006.
KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge Charger) "I'm excited to have Bobby as a teammate. Obviously for me, it's important to have somebody in the 43 car so we can grow together. It brings a huge amount of talent and experience to that seat, which hopefully will bring the 45 car up. With Robbie's help and these two working together it'll take Petty Enterprises to another level. Three or four years ago we had a plan and started down it and it didn't work out like we wanted it to. Now Robbie is in charge of everything and hopefully it'll work out exactly like we want it to. I'm excited to have not only Bobby, but Madison and Tyler and Donna become a part of our family. General Mills has been a part of our family. Dodge is a part of our family. If you know, at Petty Enterprises in a lot of ways sometimes we're more about relationships than anything else. Bobby was one of the first guys that jumped on the (Victory Junction) camp bandwagon with us. Many years ago when he won the championship in 2000 and Pontiac gave him a car, he donated it to the camp so we could raise funds for the camp. I'm excited on a multitude of levels here, not the least of which is him driving the racecar. I'm just excited to be able to work with Bobby Labonte personally."
"When we hired Robbie we turned everything over to Robbie. This is not my job any more. Even though you guys keep talking to me, it's not my job anymore. My job and it's been made clear to me by Robbie, is to sit my butt in a racecar and drive it and keep my mouth shut. That's my job. That's taken a lot of the burden off me. I think the 45 car has performed better the last 10 weeks since we hired Robbie. Robbie is not there working on the car, but I know I'm not having to make a lot of these decisions so I can focus on the cars."
BOBBY LABONTE (2006 Driver Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge Charger) "It's an exciting day. I've very thrilled about this. The No. 43 goes back a long way for me. Obviously they're close to home. I've been to their shop many times. I was just hanging out there as a kid and didn't know what was going on. I was very fortunate. I was able to get picked by Kyle and Robbie to get to drive the car, and I feel awesome about it. I went to the shop the other day. What a great opportunity. I've known Robbie, we probably met in 1986, and I've known Kyle since we moved up to Trinity, N.C. It's been a quick few days here or few weeks that it's all come together. I think it's a great opportunity for my family and myself. I hope we can do what Robbie said and put that 43 in victory lane. I feel really good about that. Having Kyle as a teammate is going to be awesome. I think we think alike. We drive similar setups I think. I feel like it's the coolest opportunity I could have at this point in my career. The guys at Interstate Batteries and Joe Gibbs Racing letting me out of my contract was awesome. I feel great about it. It's been 11 years since I've done anything like this. I don't do this very often."
"I want to be able to communicate with Kyle and Robbie and the crew chief and get our off-season program together as far as getting ready for the season. Communication is a big part and being a part of the race team. I think being able to be a part of the race team is going to be huge for me. I want to be able to give everything I can back to that as far as the communication goes as far as the racecars and stuff like that. I know about racecars. I still think I know what I want in a racecar, but sometimes you don't get it. Sometimes if you get with the right people it goes a long way. I think realistically we've got some work to do. We know starting off brand new is going to be brand new. It could be really good to start off with, but if it isn't, I think we have all the ingredients here to work better at it and get going in the right direction.
"Robbie is the eternal optimist, and I love that about him. Kyle is going to be the same way. I hope I can bleed over to that. If we start off and we're not in the top 10, we're going to be there before long. If we're in the top 10 and we're not in the top five, our goal is to be in the top five. If we're not there, you know the other one there is to win races. I know we can do it. It's a matter of getting everything together and we'll do that. Whether it'll take one week or 10 weeks, I don't know that answer, but I know the enthusiasm is there to do it, and our goal is to do it and our heart is in this. This is how we got together because this is what we wanted to do for each other.
"I've had a couple of years of tough times. It's still hard to do even though we've had tough races and tough weekends. I believe at this point in time things were happening and there were things I needed to go forward with. It's just fortunate that things worked out. It just happened. Signs were telling me that this is what I needed to do.
"It was an awesome program. When I was growing up before we had airplanes, we'd go to the racetrack and hang out in the back of the van and have lunch at Rockingham and Darlington and places like that. We had great moments. I always viewed the 43 car and the Pettys as the icon of the sport. To be able to drive their car is going to be great."
ROBBIE LOOMIS (Executive Vice President of Operations, Petty Enterprises) "We talked at Loudon about Petty Enterprises and the commitment that Kyle and Richard have made to bring Petty Enterprises back to victory lane, and I think Bobby will be a huge piece of that force. We're building. I think when I went there in 1989 in reminded me of that same feeling, but I think we're a lot further ahead."
WILL IT BE AN ADVANTAGE WORKING WITH THE 43 AND 45? "When we look at the company and look at trying to grow it, it's not only growing one team and trying to get the 43 back to victory lane, but it's also the 45. Kyle played a huge role in this. I kid him all the time about how well he ran at Dover to show the cars can run and show they can be competitive. I think the more we step one up the more the other one comes up. I've seen it with the 24 and 48 complex, and I've seen the excitement with the guys at Petty Enterprises. It's incredible to hear just the excitement of knowing we had a chance to get Bobby helped everybody. I think we've got a lot of work ahead of us. We've got to keep working to improve the car and get the motors better and better. We have the things in place to do it. We've just got to keep shuffling things around until we get to where we want to be. I said at Loudon one time when the team is only four tenths off from the leader it seems huge, but it's really not. It's a very small difference getting that out of the car. We've seen it testing many times, and that's how I kind of look at it to get back where we need to be."
"I've known Bobby a long time, and the great thing about my new role and what Mr. Hendrick let me do at the end of the season with the 48 team has been to observe things with the crew chief-driver relationship and kind of tell how that's working and try to help it along. I think that will be of benefit when we get the right guy in there with Bobby. We can grow and he can bounce things off me. The pressure with the driver and crew chief when you're in there trying to perform is huge. I think if you have someone who sees it from afar you can take the driver's feelings and the crew chief's feelings and help them see they're after the same goal. Sometimes the communication gets broke down and it's a matter of we're not after the same thing at the end of the day. It takes awhile, but at the same time, I think the best communication comes from spending time at the test sessions and practice together."
"After winning the championship, and Bobby has won the championship. After winning the Daytona 500 last year, those are good feelings, but the greatest part about it is the work to get there. That last week before you go to Homestead when you're going for that championship or the work through the winter when you win the Daytona 500. That's the great feeling. When it's over, it's over. You're ready to do something again. That's why I'm so excited about this. It's a huge challenge for us to get the car back to victory lane, to get the car in The Chase, to get back to where I would love to see us win the championship. Is it a reality next year? You've seen a lot of things happen in the sport and you look at it and ask how'd that happen? You just have to keep working and put your best foot forward. As far as Bobby's contract, I see him being here and finishing out his career at Petty Enterprises. A lot of it is going to depend on the communication and the tools we give him and how things flow. I see him finishing out his career with us, and I think that's going to be the jobs we do. As far as the crew chiefs, we're working very hard on the people and working on the alignment of that, making sure we have the right people in the right places. The Good Lord willing, I can tell you I won't be. That's one thing I know, but I'm going to do every thing I can to support and do the things I need to do. There might be a time I'm helping out a lot during the race with a crew chief who is there.
KYLE PETTY: "Bobby and I were talking on pit road at Texas. I asked him how things were going, and he said pretty good. I told him I'd been sitting in the truck with the lounge door shut so I wouldn't have to mislead any of you guys. He said he'd been doing the same thing. You guys are really good at asking questions and giving us just enough room where we can wiggle to the corner of it and not absolutely lie to you, and we appreciate that. Obviously for us this was important for us to keep it quiet for Bobby so he could tell his guys first. His first obligation when we first talked to Bobby was Joe Gibbs Racing, J.D. Gibbs, that team and the people at Interstate Batteries. We didn't want to be a part of disrupting that. It had to come out of his mouth.
"When we first started talking we were doing sports car racing when we first started talking about stuff. I love it, and Bobby was in Daytona this past Wednesday doing some stuff with Jim France and the Grand American Division. Now that I've got a teammate and we're teammates here, hopefully we can put something together. I'd like to be a part of putting something together. He and Terry already have, so maybe I can con them into letting me be a part of it."
YOU'RE AT A BIG ENGINEERING DISADVANTAGE TO ROUSH AND EVERNHAM? "We don't think so. That's just your opinion. OK? I'll answer that question. From a team perspective, from a driver's perspective we have all the engineering we need right now. I can't ask for anymore than our engineering department is doing from out scale models to our simulation to everything we're doing. I'll put our stuff from a driver's perspective, I'll put our stuff up against anything that Roush throws out or that Ray throws out or anybody else throws out. That's just the way it is. We've laid the groundwork for that over the last four or five years. When we did our deal with Multimatic we have seven, eight, 10 engineers that work at the shop. We've got access to another 250 engineers that work out of Canada. From engineering depth and engineering resources, that's what I'm saying. I'll put our stuff up against anybody's out here. We just don't bring all of 'em to the racetrack, and I don't see a need to drag all of them to the racetrack every week. That's not what it's all about. Once you get to the racetrack it gets back in the driver's hands and crew chief's and team engineer there to use the tools that engineering gives you to maximize your performance with the car on the racetrack. I think we're good. You can always improve on where you're at. There are always directions you can go in, and we'll continue to explore different directions and different things, but we feel pretty good about our engineering."
HOW WILL THIS AFFECT MOMENTUM AND TEAM MORALE? "All I know is this morning we told our guys at the shop and it's the first time in five years that he (Jerry Freeze) stood in front of the guys at the shop and made an announcement that everybody applauded and hooped and hollered. Everybody was excited. I think Robbie addressed it a little bit earlier. When the rumor got out that a driver the caliber of Bobby Labonte might come to Petty Enterprises morale went sky high at Petty Enterprises. We've got to do something at some point in time, but you talk about momentum going into the winter with where we're at. You bring Bobby Labonte to the shop, we've got momentum going into the winter where we haven't had it over the last four or five years. That's huge. From a teammate's perspective, I couldn't be more excited than to have somebody like Bobby drive this car. He came up through the Busch Series, worked on his own stuff and understands the car. Part of the deal with coming to Petty Enterprises is getting more involved with the team. Obviously I'm there every day, so I am involved with the team. To go back with some of the things he's done in the past with the Busch cars, the way we used to drive whether it's bias-ply tires a long time ago with the Busch cars and radials and stuff like that. There's a lot of common ground here between himself and myself. When we look at it, I think our style of driving, what we look for in a car, what we ask out of a car, what we look for from a team are a lot together and a lot closer to myself than what John Andretti was or what Jeff was. Even though they did great jobs for us, there was still a gap between how they did things and how I did things. We never could really close that gap. I think we're a lot closer in style, a lot closer on how we approach the car. Robbie would probably be better at addressing how we keep that momentum going."
BOBBY LABONTE: "It was tough (being part of silly season). Again, it's been 11 years since I've been part of that, since I was part of anything like that and back then it wasn't a big deal. I think I tried to do the best job I could as far as telling the truth to people that mattered to me. It was tough, there's no doubt about it. I hate to be a part of it. You know what I mean? It's a weird feeling, and I wish it wasn't like that. It goes back to 11 years of not being in it, and I'm not used to it. I presented the folks at Joe Gibbs Racing on Monday that I was leaving. I told my guys today before I got here. They didn't know. They'd heard the speculation, but they didn't know. I told them myself. I think in my heart that's what I had to do. You read the paper, but it never was from my mouth. It was tough to keep things quiet. My mom didn't even know. She didn't know until today what I was going to do next year. That's how quiet I've been keeping it from a lot of people. My dad knew, but my mom didn't. This is what I've learned over the past few weeks, and I told my mom this the other day before I left. She said, 'what are you going to do?' I said, 'you know how you keep a secret?' She said, 'how?' I said, 'you don't know the secret. That's how you keep a secret.' She knows now."
WERE YOU NOT ABLE TO BE HANDS-ON AT GIBBS? "I had the chance to, but it was a little more difficult. Not that it was 55 minutes away. That wasn't it because that was no problem. There are a lot of employees there and a lot of stuff going on. It was just hard to get a hold of. I told Robbie and Kyle this, too. A couple of years ago I probably got out of it more than I need to. I was kind of like in a position to not know as much. I didn't know as much. So, these two guys know me. I know my wife knows how I am. She lived through the days of working all day at Hagan Racing and then working all night on my stuff and getting to her house at 10 or 10:30, eating dinner and sleeping on the couch, so she knows how I am. I'm not going to build A-frames or put on bodies. I've been to the wind tunnel numerous times. Just being a part of the organization as far as being there, this is a great opportunity. Not that I didn't have it before. I had it in the earlier years at Gibbs Racing, but there was always 18 people, 20 people, 30 people, 40 people, 50 people, it adds up to 300 something and it gets to be more difficult. Jimmy Makar and I worked real good together. We did that together a lot. Now, by the crow flies we're 10 minutes from the shop and by driving we're 15 minutes from the shop. That's going to give me the opportunity to be there more often. To be a part of it, chemistry is a huge deal and I think like Robbie said the enthusiasm of the race team right now going into the winter time is going to be awesome. If I was not there, that wouldn't be a good thing. I want to be there because I want to be there, not because I have to be there, because I want to be there. I'm a whole lot better if I'm smarter and not dumb."
ROBBIE LOOMIS: "From a confidence standpoint in any race team, you're always looking at ways to build momentum. Sometimes it comes with working on the gas pedal for a driver to give him more confidence in the smoothness of the pedal. As far as confidence of the team, I know talking to guys on the team, two or three weeks ago guys were changing their screensavers putting Bobby and Kyle on their screens. What it does, it makes everybody dig a little deeper. I think we all know everyday we're supposed to wake up every day and give our best, but I look at every employee and say on a scale of 1-10 in every area, what are our strengths? I think bringing in a 10 driver tells us that everybody else is going to sit there and say they're going to raise their level up. They want to try harder. I think that's what's going to bring us to where we're at. It's been six years since I've been to Pettys. When I went and looked around, that was the thing I was most impressed with.the whole area is what they've done with the engineering side of it. From six years ago when I left and then I've been working with the Hendrick program and then to see what they've got going on at Pettys, I was like, 'wow, they've got a lot of tools here to work with.' You've just got to get up every day; putting our hearts into it, believing we can get this done and go out there and do it."