BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: ARE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE NOW WITH WHERE YOU'RE AT AS A RACE TEAM, AS COMPARED TO LAST YEAR AT THIS TIME? "Yeah, because we've been luckier this year so far than we were last year -...
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
ARE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE NOW WITH WHERE YOU'RE AT AS A RACE TEAM, AS COMPARED TO LAST YEAR AT THIS TIME? "Yeah, because we've been luckier this year so far than we were last year - knock on wood. Last year we ran pretty good at Vegas and finished really bad. This year we ran really bad and finished better, which was more luck than anything. Rockingham was positive, like it was last year. Daytona was basically like it was last year - ran OK and just got caught up in a wreck.
"But really, we feel pretty good about things. We're definitely going in the right direction, especially coming off of last fall compared to the championship year. In 2000 we were going along and everything was great, but we probably didn't see as much going on around us. Then we started last year off and thought we were going to be just fine, but once we got a few weeks in we realized that things weren't going to be quite like they had been."
HOW DISAPPOINTING WAS LAST FALL'S DNF AT ATLANTA? "It wouldn't have been so bad, but after getting in 'the wreck' at Daytona and then at Las Vegas we had a problem that recurred here - it was real bad. It was really disappointing because of all that. If we had all that happen and then had something happen here, we wouldn't have been quite as frustrated. But, we had three out of the first four races that turned out to be bad finishes. This race was miserable, but it had as much to do with two other races before it."
ARE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE IN THE CAR THIS YEAR? "No, not yet. Not at some places. Rockingham was good, but Vegas wasn't."
DID YOU TEST HERE? "No. I know we've got a lot of tests coming up, but I'm almost to the point that I don't want to test anymore. It always seems to be different when you go back. I think I do better off when I don't practice."
DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS WITH THE ONE-ENGINE RULE? "Yep. I think they'll change it and go back to the way it used to be.
"They're trying to be like the Busch Series, but we run 500 miles; they run 300 miles. We run 500 miles at Darlington; they run 200 miles at Darlington. We run 500 laps at Bristol; they run 250 laps at Bristol. This ain't the Busch Series. They're trying to make the same thing happen and it isn't the same thing."
DO YOU THINK IT WILL TAKE A LARGE NUMBER OF ENGINE FAILURES TO FORCE THE CHANGE? "No, I think it will be who blows them up, not how many. Let's say that if [Jeff] Gordon blows up or Ricky Rudd or Dale Jarrett - if some of those guys blow up a couple times in a row, that's going to be it. "It's not a bad idea, but it's not a good idea either when you think about the fact of saving money. We'd run our qualifying motor, and then we'd put our race motor in Saturday morning. But, if you felt like you needed to change it, you changed it. Now, to change it you've got to go through an act of Congress to change it. It's like, 'Well, are you telling us that you just don't like it or is it blown up and can you prove it's blown up?'
"Now, you've got to take the motor apart, but they close the garage area at 3 o'clock in the afternoon on Saturday, so now what are you going to do? Are you going to come in Sunday morning at 6 a.m.? I don't know. It's a hairy thing."
THE ECONOMY HAS LED TO SPONSORSHIP PROBLEMS FOR SOME TEAMS IN OUR SPORT...ARE THERE THINGS THAT CAN BE DONE WITHIN THE SPORT TO HELP THE SITUATION BY TRYING TO CONTROL COSTS? "There might be, but it's kind of a double-edged sword because you may do one thing and then it will cost more somewhere else. I don't know. I'm not a car owner and I quit being a car owner because I never did very good at that.
"I learned a lesson about nine years ago that if they pay $3 million to win, you're going to spend $3 million to go. If they pay $1 million to win, you're going to spend $1 million and they pay $100,000 to win, you're going to spend $100,000. That is just the nature of racing."
JIMMY MAKAR, CREW CHIEF, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
WHAT DOES ATLANTA MEAN TO YOU? "I look forward to it. It's a place we've had incredible success at and been real fortunate. It's been good to us. When you have a track like that where you seem to be able to run well every time you come back, you get really excited about it. Your confidence level goes up a notch when you come back to a place like this. Even when you're having problems and things don't to the way you want them to, you've still got that confidence that you can pull yourself out of the problem and still have success. It's kind of unique and kind of neat to have that.
"I, personally, enjoy the fact that this is a track that we can sort of set a standard or have success that can be talked about over the years. It's kind of a neat thing when you can dominate or at least be very competitive at a racetrack and do that year in and year out. It's something that you really want to work hard at continuing that success rate - that roll that we've got going right now --- as long as we can."
DID LAST FALL'S WIN HERE MAKE YOU SHAKE YOUR HEAD A LITTLE BIT? "We were never better than a second or third place car here all day last fall and we knew that. But it's one of those deals where if you stay in this business long enough, you will win races that way and you'll lose races that way. That was one of those deals where we were just real fortunate and were in the right place at the right time to capitalize on Jerry's [Jerry Nadeau's] misfortune.
"We just felt real lucky on that one. We had really given up on that one - I didn't think they were going to have problems. When it happened it was a little bit unbelievable. It was fun.
"If the shoe is on the other foot, it's the most miserable day of your life. But, in that case, we were real lucky and real fortunate."
DO YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT WHERE YOUR TEAM IS AT RIGHT NOW AS COMPARED TO LAST YEAR? "Yeah, I do. I feel more comfortable about our motor program right now. I don't think we've got any foreseeable problems that we're trying to work through and scramble on, so I feel good about our motor program - where it's at right now. There is a lot of pressure off, not having to worry about that.
"I'm still a little frustrated about where we are with the tire. I'm trying to figure out how to make the car work good on this tire for ourselves. We're not as far forward down the road as I want to be in getting that figured out and getting Bobby comfortable on the tire. But, other than that, I feel like the team is in good shape. Personnel is good, the attitude is good and the amount of enthusiasm on the team is very good. We haven't dug ourselves a hole, so that's a good thing. I just see a lot of positive things on the real close horizon.
IT'S PROBABLY CRAZY TO TALK ABOUT POINTS AFTER THREE RACES, BUT DO YOU FEEL OK WITH WHERE YOU'RE AT IN RELATION TO EVERYBODY? "It is...it is crazy. But, like I said earlier, what you worry about is having a bunch of DNFs early in the year and digging yourself a hole that you can't come out of. Right now, just finishing races, being competitive and being towards the front of the field is what you need to do right now. That is something we didn't do last year. We had mechanical problems that dug us a real bad hole, but this year we're in good shape, as far as that's concerned.
"The face of the points is going to change a lot over the course of the next couple months. The car that I think you're going to probably see there continuously, though - and he's got a heck of a jump - is the '40' car [Sterling Marlin]. He was good all year last year, but he really got strong the latter half of last year and it looks like they came out of the box in the same shape. I think that's the guy we're going to be chasing most of the year, if they don't shoot themselves in the foot or get into some mechanical problems."