Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 96 Ask.com Ford Fusion, is coming off a fifth-place finish in last week's Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Labonte held a Q&A session prior to Friday's practice session at Atlanta Motor ...
Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 96 Ask.com Ford Fusion, is coming off a fifth-place finish in last week's Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Labonte held a Q&A session prior to Friday's practice session at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
THOUGHTS ON THIS WEEKEND? "I always look forward to coming back to Atlanta Motor Speedway. I've had some great runs here and know that this is has been one of my favorite tracks to come to. Usually when you unload and come to one of those venues that you enjoy a lot, that usually boosts your confidence up for the weekend and moral. We were talking a while ago and Todd Parrott and I, in 2006 when we came here, we qualified sixth and were leading the race and we had an engine problem. So as far as Todd and I are concerned, we feel like we'll be good here."
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT ENGINE ISSUES THIS WEEKEND? "I think all the manufacturers probably have been bit by the bug. It's kind of like everybody's sinus infection, I think everybody has had a little bit of a hiccup in the deal that they might not have foreseen. I feel like what happened last week was hopefully last week and I don't foresee any problems at this point in time, but I'm sure they probably thought that at Vegas. Some of you might laugh at me for saying this, but the tires were so good last weekend they didn't fall off. Here, the asphalt has aged quite a bit so you know that the lap times will fall off and the speeds will drop, so that will probably be pretty good. Obviously, last weekend the engines had to sustain a lot of RPM and that was probably the big factor in a lot of it. I'm not sure, but I'm sure it had something to do with it."
HAS THE NO TESTING BAN AFFECTED YOU AT ALL? "I'd like to think it has affected us. We haven't been to a facility yet outside of a race weekend yet, so, yeah, I feel like it has. I feel like we could be better if we would have been able to go to some tests, but that's just what was in front of us and we could do nothing about it. I think we've got a couple tests coming up in the next couple months so we can figure out a few things and get ready for some short track stuff. I think we're very fortunate that Todd and I worked together. We've got great equipment and great personnel there, so that helps out when we're trying to figure each other out. We already know a little bit, so that's been a little bit of a head start for us."
DID YOU HAVE ANY MAJOR ADJUSTMENTS WHEN THE TRACK CHANGED? "The old track, I loved it. I think it was a favorite for a lot of drivers that came here back then before the new design and garage and suites and all that stuff. I had some success here then, and when it was new, I think we came down here and did a tire test or a test somewhere and it was way faster and had a lot of grip because it was newly repaved, but it still has some of the same characteristics. Even though they changed the front straightaway - the entry into the corners into one and the exit of four is different, but somehow, someway if you look off turn two and into turn three is still the same in some way even though they repaved the whole track - even though they reconfigured, really, only the front straightaway. So it's got a little bit of both in it. Obviously, right now before they reconfigured it, the track was grip level-wise, was probably similar to what it is today or has been the past few years. As far as learning the track all over again, it was basically the front straightaway and stuff like that more than anything else. They didn't redesign everything. As far as I know the banking stayed the same angles. The entry to three and the exit off four is still the same. Pit wall is a little different now. It used to be that pit wall was so close off four you'd about run into it if you weren't careful, so some things like that, but it's kind of still the same Atlanta in a lot of ways like it was before it was reconfigured."
COULD YOU HAVE IMAGINED THIS START AND HOW DO KIDS RESPOND TO YOU NOW AS A PAST CHAMPION? "I'm kind of surprised a little bit about the way we've started off and where we're sitting now. I think that's relatively good, but, like I said at the press conference where I said I hadn't even sat in the race car yet to fit a seat, I was still confident knowing the faces and everything there and all the resources that are available there's no doubt in my mind that we can't be good off the truck. So, yeah, I felt like we could be good. Yes, I'm just ecstatic where we are today, there's not doubt. But I know the possibility was there and I know that we had a chance at it and I know we can be successful with this race team at this point in time. I feel great about that. We're a step further ahead of what I know a lot of people here probably thought or we kind of thought, but we also knew in the back of our minds that we could be successful. As far as going to Cotton Elementary School this morning to help Ask.com and give a lot of computers away to a school and try to raise awareness for internet safety was a great program. It was a bunch of fifth graders, so they're smarter than I am, I know. I know as a dad that has two kids at home and a big computer there, I know how important it is to have internet safety at home. As far as fifth graders go, I was the 2000 champ. I just thank goodness that their parents maybe told them who I was before I got there because I don't know they would have known. If I would have been the 2008 champ, maybe it would have been a little different. But I had them raise their hands. There were a lot of race fans. The young man I took to school this morning, William, he was here for when I won a race in 2003 - that was his first race - so that introduction went really well because he knew who I was. It was great to see him and I think we had K-through-5 standing at the curb when I came driving up, so that was good."
IS MARTINSVILLE STILL TOUGH ON THE BRAKES AND EQUIPMENT LIKE IT USED TO BE? "I think it is. Obviously, everytime we go there it seems like you've got something that gets better. Either the brakes get better. The tires get better. You get more power. Our engineers work on making it turn better, so you go a little faster for a little longer period of time and then when you do that something gives up. Sometimes you'll melt the bead on a tire. Sometimes you'll run out of brakes because you've got better material or better cooling or something and it can sometimes bite you. That track is still pretty cool about racing really hard side by side. A lot of things can happen. It's a long race and you really have to take care of your stuff so that you can have it around, but, oh by the way, they've got such good stuff now you don't have to as much. Well if you can't take care of it because a guy is out there setting a torrid pace and you might abuse your stuff, so it's really a tough balance. All of the equipment is so good that it's tough to keep it all together for 500 laps there because things are gonna be on the edge all the time it seems like."
DOES IT MEAN ANYTHING THAT JIMMIE JOHNSON AND CARL EDWARDS ARE BOTH OFF TO SLOW STARTS? "I don't think so. I think that obviously those guys have run into issues at Vegas last weekend. On the last lap Carl had a problem and Jimmie had one with 10 to go or eight to go - something like that - and they were running in the top seven. It's just the way it is. If their average quality passes and their loop stats and stuff like that, it's not like they didn't have fast laps. It's not like they didn't have any of that, and then you've got to look at what Jimmie Johnson did last year. He wasn't that good at all and he came back to win. If I were them, I wouldn't worry about what's happened to this point in time. Time will tell on some of it, but, right now, I think if I look at them and they're not where they want to be right now, they will be I'm sure.
-credit: ford racing