BOBBY LABONTE FEATURE Pop Secret 400 Advance North Carolina Speedway October 23, 1999 BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "I think we're OK for tomorrow. That was a pretty early practice this morning so the track...
BOBBY LABONTE FEATURE Pop Secret 400 Advance North Carolina Speedway October 23, 1999
BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "I think we're OK for tomorrow. That was a pretty early practice this morning so the track was awfully cool. That makes the happy hour practice a lot more important. I wouldn't say this track has been 'hit or miss' for us. It's been hit, miss and hopefully now hit again. We had two hits and then we had six misses and we got one hit in the spring, and hopefully, another hit tomorrow. It's not like it's been up and down. It's not like we get one good race and one bad race. It's like two good, six bad and we're going for two good now. We were great in the spring, awesome. We qualified ninth and led the first part of the race. We were really good on old tires and decent on new ones. Really on old tires we were better yet. There at the end Mark Martin took off and won the race and we almost got by Dale Jarrett, but couldn't do it. We finished third. We had fun. I'd take that every day of the week right here. It was a good race for us. We had a lot of fun that day."
HOW TOUGH CAN LAPPED TRAFFIC BE HERE? "From the first lap to 50-60 laps on the same tires is a pretty big difference. Here, you go out there and you're on new tires and a guy is still on old tires you can catch him really fast. Then he comes in and puts tires on and he catches you real fast. You've got to be aware that the lap times here vary quite a bit. But it's wide enough. People use three lanes here and that's why you can go 209 laps without a caution (spring race). You can run in different lanes and everybody's just kind of holding on."
DESPITE BEING A REAL CONTENDER FOR THE CHAMIONSHIP, YOU GUYS HAVE STRAYED FROM THAT TOPIC AND GONE WITH THE 'ONE RACE AT A TIME' THEME. WHERE DOES THAT ATTITUDE COME FROM? "That's just the way we think, I guess. That's really our thought process. We've never won a championship, but we haven't really lost one (like this) either. I mean, we've never been this close to losing one. They say you have to lose one before you win one, so if we're not going to win, I guess we're going according to plan aren't we? They've built up such a lead it's just hard to overcome it. But there are a few races left. If something doesn't come and bite us that we're not sure about next year, I think we'll be OK. We might not take as big a jump like we did from last year to this year, but if we can just be consistent and pick up on the tracks where we had troubles this year and don't lose anything on tracks we had good runs on this year, hopefully, we'll be at the right progressive rate that we need to move up at."
YOU'VE HAD A GREAT YEAR. BECAUSE OF THAT, DO YOU THINK MORE ABOUT THE STRONG RUNS THAT WERE CURTAILED? THE 'WHAT IFS?' "Sears Point, Watkins Glen, I remember them all. If you can take all those races and say, 'Well, if we had just finished where we were running at that time, fifth, seventh, 10th, whatever it was,' you think about where you would be, yeah. Sometimes its OK to do that because there's not a guy out there doing the right thing every week. Usually the competition might have some spikes in there deal, too. This year we had that and he (Jarrett) didn't. That makes a big difference. At the same time, I hope we can learn from that to help us win a championship. Then again, you might learn the same thing twice, but we'll try not to."
JIMMY MAKAR, crew chief (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "I don't really believe in the adage you have to lose a championship before you can win one. Not really. I think it's coincidence. It seems like that's what always happens anyway. I think if you prepare yourself to do what it takes to win the championship, you don't necessarily have to lose one. It's just that most people do. I think it can be done without losing a championship."
EVERY YEAR YOU GUYS HAVE SHOWN IMPROVEMENT. YOU GET BETTER EVERY YEAR. IS THAT ACCORDING TO A PLAN? "That's part of the growing process. When you sit down at the end of the year and analyze what has happened that year and look at where you've been strong and look at what your weak points are, if you sit down and really be honest with yourself you can find weaknesses. To get better, you've got to address them and try to make them better. You try to improve on that for your next season. That's what we've been doing all along. From Day One, we've been able to sit down and say, 'This is where we're good at and this where we're bad at.' There's always something every year that you want to work on. We've been real fortunate to be able to improve on areas where we needed to. That's kind of the way we look at it every year. We look at things that will make us better, what things we can change or do different to make us better."
WHAT'S THE LAST STEP NEEDED TO ATTAIN A CHAMPIONSHIP? "We've done everything we've needed to do this year to win the battle. We've run up front, stayed up front, led races, won races. We've been competitive every week. That was the big key that we lacked in the past. Being competitive on every race track everywhere we went. I think this year we've achieved that. We've been competitive on every track we've gone to. We've felt like we're one of the top-five cars everywhere. With us being able to do that came a few wins and the good finishes. I think what took us out of the championship hunt was nine races where we've had a severe problem. We've had four engine problems and four wrecks. Some of the wrecks were of our own making and some of them weren't. There's no way to control that. I don't know what I'd do differently. The motor things, we work on that continuously. We had two freak things happen this year. We had a ball of rubber come up and knock a power steering belt off at Martinsville in the first race. We had to come in and pit and we had a good car that day. We had a piece of debris from a car at Bristol with 20 laps to go and knock the rear end pump belt off that tore the rear end gear up. What do you about those things? You think about them and you try to come up with a way to keep them from happening again, but the long and short of it is, those things you don't have control over. The crashes, if somebody wrecks in front of you or comes across the race track and collects you, you're just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most of the times when we had that problem we were where we wanted to be, running in the top-five. So, you really can't fix that."
GUESS IT'S HARD FOR YOU TO CHEER AGAINST DALE JARRETT WHEN HE'S YOUR BROTHER-IN-LAW. "I don't think wishing bad luck on someone is the correct thing to do no matter who is leading the points. You don't wish your competitor bad luck. In my opinion, I'd rather beat everybody heads up with them having the best races they can have. It's much gratifying to know you beat guys heads up racing against them instead of them having a series of problems that took them out of the race. It's a little less gratifying that way, but obviously, you take it anyway you can get it. I don't want to wish anybody bad luck. Those guys have worked hard through the years and they've put themselves in that position. It's not a fluke that they're leading the points right now. If they do continue on and win the championship, then it will be well-deserved."
YOU'VE VIRTUALLY CONCEEDED THE CHAMPIONSHIP. DOES THAT MAKE IT EASIER TO GO FOR BROKE AND GO OUT AND TRY HARDER TO WIN RACES? "We've talked about it probably for the last 10 races. We've really been behind by 250 points or so for the last 10 races. You don't overcome that kind of a deficit. The only thing we can do is what we've tried to do all year, go out and win races, lead races and get the points we can get. We'll let that play itself out. We've been doing that all year long. We've gone into every week just looking at that week. If we went home knowing we did all we could do, that's all there is for us to do. That's the way we've been racing for the last seven or eight races here. That's the way we'll finish up the season. We're still racing for second and there are some guys that can overcome us there. We have to think about that, too. We obviously don't want to do anything stupid to jeopardize our position as far as second-place in points."
DOES IT BOTHER YOU WHEN GUYS LIKE JACK ROUSH SAY, 'THEY HAVE HAD A GREEN LIGHT TO GET JUST ABOUT ANYTHING THEY WANTED,' MEANING THE PONTIACS HAVE A RULES ADVANTAGE? DO YOU TAKE THAT AS A SLAM ON YOUR TEAM? "We've heard that all year long from the other manufacturers that the Pontiac has an unfair advantage. It's easy to cry about something when you don't really know what's your talking about. I think that's the situation here. We've taken these cars to the win tunnel numerous times and compared them all. Everybody knows the results. Everybody knows this car is not any better than anybody else's race car. It's just a fact that it's competitive right now. Our team has grown to the point where we're a competitive race team. Pontiac happens to have a little more spoiler than the other cars and that's the first thing everybody points at when you have some success and you have something different than they don't have. I challenge any one of them to get in a Pontiac and try to race it and see if it's so much of an advantage. It's not a bad race car, but I don't think it's got an advantage over anybody else, either. It's a good race car and we've worked real hard at making it a good race car and making it competitive. You're always going to have that when you've got something different between two makes of cars. Really all three manufacturers are a little different this year. I know the new Monte Carlo is going to be more like a Ford with the spoiler next year, but the car is going to look more like a Ford, too. It hurts a little bit to hear comments like that, but you've got to take it with a grain of salt and realize people are always going to talk about things like that. I know better. I know what kind of aerodynamic field we're playing on and I certainly don't think there's an advantage to this car."