Texas II: Labonte, Hendrick Friday wake-up call, part 2

Continued from part 1 WHERE DOES TERRY FIT IN AMONG THE 14 DRIVERS THAT HAVE WON MULTIPLE CHAMPIONSHIPS? RICK HENDRICK: "I'd say at the very top. Again, he brought a lot of stability and harmony. He's probably without a doubt the most ...

Continued from part 1

WHERE DOES TERRY FIT IN AMONG THE 14 DRIVERS THAT HAVE WON MULTIPLE CHAMPIONSHIPS?

RICK HENDRICK: "I'd say at the very top. Again, he brought a lot of stability and harmony. He's probably without a doubt the most unselfish guy to be in a competitive position that I've ever met, to never ask for or never complain, probably to his detriment maybe in his career. Even in that points championship deal when he and Jeff (Gordon) were running there at the end and I was concerned about the teams and concerned about the next year. I met with both teams before we went to Atlanta and said 'Look guys this is what I want you do to. I want you to know this. I'm going to the losing team and then I'll go to the winner. I just want you to know that so you don't think I've got any favorites.' Terry told me that I was making a whole lot bigger of this than I needed to. I thought man this is a championship. He wanted it really bad. He will calm the waters and I think he's taught all of us how we can compete and compete against each other and still not tear anything down. I'd say he's a very, very important part, as important as anybody that's been there. I just appreciate and am very fortunate to be able to get Terry to drive the car and his mark is going to stay there. Justin helps out. Terry and I still do things together. I still would love for him to help us and be around if he wants to but he's been a big piece of it."

ON HOW MUCH TERRY DID CALMING THE WATERS AND HIS ROLE IN ALLOWING HIS TEAM TO LAUNCH JEFF GORDON AND JIMMIE JOHNSON. COULD IT HAVE BEEN AS SMOOTH AS IT WAS IF YOU HAD A DIFFERENT PERSON IN THE NO. 5 CAR?

RICK HENDRICK: "Absolutely not. That is right dead on the money. When you have an uproar on the team or you've got a crew chief and driver that are fighting, it filters through the whole organization. It doesn't just affect that team. Ricky did a good job but we came close to a championship and didn't win it. Things were kind of coming unraveled. He wanted to do his own deal. Terry stepped in and he brought harmony and experience to the deal. Jeff will tell you he wrecked a lot of cars and he won a championship before Terry did but he learned how to race and mature. Gary Diehard, a very quiet individual, he and Terry worked extremely well together. They were like the stability, a team there that everybody could go to but they never asked you anything. If you didn't want to share it, fine, but they were an open book. I think Terry taught me a lot about the sport. Last night if you folks weren't there, you really missed something special if you don't sit down and talk to him. He talked a ton last night. When he walks in your office and he says something you put everything down and listen because he doesn't come until he's ready to tell you that this is screwed up or we need to do this or this is something we can do better so he's helped us in that way."

ON JEFF GORDON HAVING ENGINE PROBLEMS LAST WEEKEND AND PUSHING HIM INTO THE PITS:

TERRY LABONTE: "We actually had to make a green flag pit stop and we had some kind of issue, I forgot what was going on with our car. We were two or three laps down and then you're two or three laps down you can't get the lucky dog and you can't get back on the lead lap or anything. The spotters had thought that Jeff had run out of gas. Running for the championship it was obvious Jeff's car was going to come to a stop on the race car and sit there for several laps before they got into the garage. I just did it on my own and gave him a push in because we were fixing to pit in a couple of laps anyway. I don't know if it was the right thing to do or not but I knew you could push somebody as long as it wasn't the last lap. We were hoping it was just out of gas but unfortunately it had more serious problems than that."

ON IF WE COULD BE SEEING THE END OF MULTIPLE CHAMPIONSHIPS:

TERRY LABONTE: "I think it's awful hard to win the championship, harder today than it has been in the past with the way the points system is with the last 10 races and everybody bunched back up with just 50 apart. You've really taken a lot of advantage away from some guy that's really had a tremendous beginning of the season and now he can face losing the championship with just a couple of bad races. Then a guy can win the championship by just slipping in the top 10, never won a race and he can still never win a race and win the championship. It kind of goes both ways but I think it makes it more difficult to repeat because it takes some of the consistency out of it. The guys that have won the championships over the years have been probably the most consistent definitely for the year so I think (the current format) has definitely changed it. Whether that will change if some guy will win three or four or five championships, I don't know. You'll have to wait and see. It's definitely going to make it a little bit tougher because just one little incident can really change the outlook on it."

RICK HENDRICK: "I agree with Terry. I'm not a big fan of the Chase. I never have (been). I don't know that it's a real clear cut indication of who the best team was all year long. I think Terry said it, you could be leading by two or three hundred points and won five or six races and end up in the Chase. A guy that got in 10th place, same thing, you'd have a run of bad luck two or three races and it's just hard to win it that way. It's good for the sport. It's good for TV. It's good for the fans if everybody likes it. I think they ought to pay more points to win because I think that's what it's all about. A guy that wins four or five races or two races in the Chase ought to have a pretty good spread. I think the caliber of the teams is one thing that makes it tougher but when you get everybody back to zero or basically 50 points and you only have 10 races and somebody bad luck I think you see a lot of good cars that just don't get back up there but that's the nature of what we're racing with right now."

ON DRIVERS HAVING A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF RESPECT FOR YOU. IS THAT THE E ONTHING YOU VALUE MOST?

TERRY LABONTE: "It means a lot to me, definitely. I've always tried to race everybody like I'd like for them to race me and treat everybody like I'd like to be treated. I think it pays off. Respect is something that takes you a while to earn. Like I said earlier, I've been fortunate enough to do this for a long time and have never really made too many people too mad along the way I guess. I guess I have earned a little bit of respect."

RICK HENDRICK: "I'd like to follow up on that because I think he won't say this but I'll say it for him. I don't have to ever get on the radio with Terry Labonte and say 'Hey think about what we're doing now. Think about where we are. You're racing a teammate. It's for the championship.' You don't have to say that to him. He knows. He doesn't put himself in that position. I think races everybody out there clean. Everybody in that garage area knows if you screw with Terry Labonte you will get your neck rung. I've seen some of the top drivers in the sport come over and buy him dinner and try to make peace if they ever touch him. I have seen him cold cock a couple. I think Texas Terry will race you clean but if you don't race him clean he will get you back."

AFTER THE INCIDENT WITH DALE EARNHARDT AT BRISTOL, WERE YOU JOKING ABOUT THE TRANSMISSION BREAKING?

TERRY LABONTE: "Oh no, that was the truth. I never told too many people about it but everybody really bragged on how calm I was and how I well I handled that situation. And I thought to myself if they only knew how ticked off I was. When Earnhardt came back around the back straight away, I had that thing in reverse and I had it timed just right. That 3 car was going to go to victory lane but that 5 car was going to be stuck in the side of it. And then the transmission broke and I'm like dang. It just took all the wind out of my sail I guess. I got out and shrugged it off like everybody just thought I did a great job. It would have been a little different deal if that transmission wouldn't have broke (laughs).

ON THE NIGHT WHEN HE AND MR. HENDRICK WENT TO THE NASCAR TRAILER:

TERRY LABONTE: "Oh God no. Well I got wrecked. Early in the race we running third and I was mad. So my guys worked 200 laps welding the motor back into that car. I had calmed down by then but if you guys don't know Gary DeHart, he hadn't calmed down yet. I got in the car and put my helmet on. He lets the car down and said 'We didn't go back out here just to ride around.' So I knew if I was going to go back in that shop Monday morning, I was fixing to go pay somebody back and I did. We watched the whole race fast forward in the VCR in the NASCAR trailer. That was the first time I really had to meet Mike Helton. It was right when he was getting started but he made a good impression on me though.

RICK HENDRICK: "I can help you there because I had to go with you. I've been in there a lot so I've got a lot of experience at it. You were sitting there and they looked at you and they said 'You just went out there and wrecked him' and Terry said 'Yep' and that was all of it."

DID RUNNING A PARTIAL SCHEDULE TURN OUT LIKE YOU THOUGHT OR IF YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY WOULD YOU TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT?

TERRY LABONTE: "I'll tell you know that started. I was actually thinking about retiring a couple of years ago. We went to Pocono and we had a really good run at Pocono. I went in Rick's office Monday or Tuesday after Pocono and we had already kind of decided that was going to be my last year. As I went in his office and sat down and said 'Hey, I don't think I want to retire.' He looked at me like oh no. That's when we put together a limited schedule deal, but it's hard. The limited schedule deal is a lot harder than I thought. What's hard about it for me is the fact that these setups are so crazy today that we run and they're nothing like what we used to run. Not doing it every weekend, I can't tell the guys how to fix my car and that's what is frustrating. I loved the schedule but it's hard with no testing and things like that. The setups that we run are so crazy and so different than what I'm used to running that it makes it pretty difficult. At least in the past I could always tell my guys what I needed. It's been a little bit hard. I think it's because we don't do it every weekend so it's new to us a little bit."

ON WINNING AT DARLINGTON AND THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THERE:

TERRY LABONTE: "That was an incredible win for our team there. We went down there and unloaded off the truck and we were fast all weekend. We were fast in practice and I think we qualified third and just ran in the top five all day. I think the worst we ever got was like seventh or something during the race. We just had an awesome pit stop there at the end. We beat everybody out and led the last 30 laps or so and won the race. That was definitely one of the biggest wins in my career to have won my first at Darlington and the final race there too. It really meant a lot to me but that's always been one of my favorite tracks. It's definitely not an easy track by any means. I guess I'm old fashioned. I hate that they took the Southern 500 away. I thought it was such a neat tradition down there. I think if they put lights up around that track and ran that race on a Saturday night, they probably couldn't build enough stands. But I understand, it's not in a major market area and all that stuff but that's always been one of my favorite tracks."

WITH SEEING KYLE BUSCH'S SUCCESS SO FAR, DO YOU FEEL YOU'VE LEFT THE 5 CAR IN GOOD HANDS? WHAT'S YOUR IMPRESSION OF KYLE?

TERRY LABONTE: "I can take one thing for credit. I picked Alan (Gustafson) to be the crew chief. Alan is one of the smartest guys that I've ever worked with and he was our team engineer on the team when I drove it. I did such a good job recruiting him for the 44 car to be my crew chief they came back and said 'What do you think about letting Alan be the crew chief for the 5?' I said I thought that would be great and that he'll do a good job and he's a perfect for that. I've been awful proud of Alan and the team with what they've accomplished. Kyle's just done a fantastic job. Kyle's biggest problem is probably being Kurt's little brother so he automatically gets a few boos along the way but he's a tremendous talent and Alan has done a really good job working with him. He's done well. I have a little pride in watching their success just because I still feel like I'm a part of that team."

WHEN YOU LEAVE THE SPORT, WHAT KIND OF SHAPE DO YOU THINK IT'S IN? WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE?

TERRY LABONTE: "I think I was in the sport during some of its greatest times and saw some of its greatest changes. I saw the sport go from running races at Bristol where we probably had 20,000 or 25,000 people to now we have 160,000 people. Now we go to a lot of race tracks such as the one here in Texas, the Brickyard, the track in California, Kansas, Chicago, these new tracks that have come along the way. I don't think it could possibly grow as much and change as much in the next 25 years as it did in the last 25 years. I feel like I was part of it during some big changes in that span there. But I think the sport is great. It's going to continue to grow. I don't see how it can continue to grow at the same rate it did the next 25 years but I'm sure there are some new tracks that are going to pop up along the way. There's probably a few that will lose a date or go by the wayside. I'm excited about ESPN coming in. I always feel like ESPN did such a great job covering our sport. They're real sports people. They know how to cover sports and they just did a great job covering racing in the past. I'm looking forward to those guys coming back in here. I think they're going to do a great job. I'll tell you in the safety side of it, NASCAR and Mike Helton have done a fantastic job. They've taken that thing and really put a lot of effort into it behind the scenes that people don't know about. They share a lot with this with the competitors that they don't share with the media. They have just done a fantastic job and continue to work on the safety side of it and competition side too to try to make it a level playing field. I think the sport is in great shape, there's no doubt it. I think it will continue to grow. I think the fan base is incredible. It's very diversified with 45 percent of the fans being women. We've got so many sponsors involved in our sport such as Kellogg's, guys like this that not only do a great job promoting their team but the entire series. I think it's got a long, bright future."

"I want to thank everybody in the media for all the years you guys have been nice to me and done all the good stories. It's fun working with y'all and I look forward to the rest of this weekend. Thank you all very much for all the years of working with y'all. Y'all have been very nice to me over the years and I certainly do appreciate it."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Terry Labonte , Mike Helton