DETROIT, March 13, 2001 - During the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, Pontiac earned a modern era record-tying 11 victories, due in large part to sweeps at both Dover Downs and Darlington Raceway. While winning at Dover was nothing new for...
DETROIT, March 13, 2001 - During the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, Pontiac earned a modern era record-tying 11 victories, due in large part to sweeps at both Dover Downs and Darlington Raceway. While winning at Dover was nothing new for Pontiac, claiming the checkers at Darlington had been a rare treat.
Heading into last year's spring event, Pontiac owned just two victories in 93 previous tries at Darlington and hadn't tasted victory since 1963. But now with the drought over, Pontiac looks for it's third consecutive win this weekend at the "Track Too Tough To Tame."
Interstate Batteries Grand Prix driver Bobby Labonte won the second of those two events in September of 2000 after guiding his back-up car from the 37th starting position. The win, which helped propel him to his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship, was one of three top-five and five top-10 finishes posted by Pontiac drivers at Darlington last season.
Labonte's teammate, Tony Stewart, grabbed a fourth and a ninth in those two stops last year, making the most of two tests at Darlington in 2000. Stewart has since added another Darlington test to his education, as he visited the track for two days prior to last week's race in Atlanta.
Its 11 wins in 34 races last season enabled Pontiac Grand Prix to produce more wins per car fielded in 2000 than anyone else in NASCAR Winston Cup.
Thoughts from Bobby Labonte, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
ONCE YOU GET A WIN AT A TRACK, DOES IT CHANGE YOUR OUTLOOK ON THAT TRACK WHEN YOU GO BACK THERE?
"I think so, because you've achieved something or overcome something. It definitely gives you confidence. Before you win somewhere, you might be thinking, 'Man, am I ever going to win here? Can I ever win here?' Once you do [win], it gives you a boost. You know that you can do it there. You know that you were running good enough and your team did what it took, so it does help."
DOES WINNING FROM THE BACK LIKE YOU DID LAST YEAR AT DARLINGTON ADD THAT MUCH MORE CONFIDENCE?
"I think in a lot of ways it does. To come from as far back as we did was definitely a 'wow!' type of deal. The odds were against us. When you run up front and have had a good car all day, you expect to win. It's a little more unexpected when you have to work your way up there.
"But even though we won the race last fall, this time will be a whole different set of circumstances. You've got to go out there and prove yourself again. You can't just say, 'I did this once, so I think I can do this from now on.' It's not like that. It's not just going to fall in your lap. You've really got to concentrate on that a lot. You can traditionally be really good somewhere, but about the time that you think you're good, you're going to be bad. You've got to keep working at it."
DOES IT HELP YOU AT ALL WHEN TONY STEWART TESTS SOMEWHERE THAT YOU DON'T?
"Our driving styles are different, but there are enough similarities, so it does help. I think when he first came on, we helped him and now we share back and forth - more 50-50."
HOW WILL NEW TIRES AFFECT THE RACING AT DARLINGTON?
"It will still be a lot of the same things, with people short-pitting and all that. But I think in the long run it will be better - if you get your car working right, of course, just like before."
THE WEEKEND SCHEDULES ARE A LITTLE DIFFERENT THIS YEAR AT SOME TRACKS - SOMETIMES TWO DAYS INSTEAD OF THREE, SOMETIMES 'HAPPY HOUR' IS HELD BEFORE THE BUSCH RACE. HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT?
"It depends where we're going. Some places I like to have practice after the Busch race because the track is not the same Saturday morning as it is in the afternoon. Atlanta is a place we need to practice after the Busch race, Charlotte will be and other places will be the same.
"Rockingham and Darlington, so far, the two-day schedule seems like it's going to work out not so bad."
Thoughts from Greg Zipadelli, Crew Chief, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix:
WHY HAVE YOU TESTED SO MUCH AT DARLINGTON DURING YOUR FIRST THREE SEASONS AS A CREW CHIEF?
"Darlington is just one of those places that if you're not fully prepared, you can run terribly. I don't know what it is about that place. But I think Tony is the type of driver that once we do figure it out, Darlington is a place where we can go and win, and run with guys like Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon - guys that just seem to dominate there. We're just trying to get better there. I want to conquer that place."
IS DARLINGTON ONE OF THOSE TRACKS WHERE YOU'VE SAID, "WE'RE GOOD, BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH?"
"We haven't mastered it, but we've run okay there. The place is still intimidating. I think it intimidates everyone every time we go there.
"Testing there is kind of a confidence booster for us. When we unload we'll probably have the car outfitted with a very detailed qualifying trim, because we felt our race setup will be okay. With the limited number of practices that we're getting, and with the way the performance of the tires drops off at Darlington, it's really hard to learn things if you're not really good right from the time you unload. You get two runs on a set of tires, and after that, you don't know what you did, so if you're not very good when you unload it's pretty hard to get back on track."
WILL THE TWO-DAY FORMAT MAKE DARLINGTON TOUGHER?
"It will because you don't have a [race] practice in the morning on Saturday, which used to give you a couple of hours to think about your car and change all the stuff you wanted to change before 'Happy Hour.' Now [with the two-day format] you don't get anywhere near the time to stop and think about what direction you went. You find yourself throwing a bunch of ideas at the car trying to find a cure for what's going on. Once that final practice is over, it's over. You wind up sorting out what you want to change and what you want to leave alone for the race."