NOTES AND QUOTES NAPA 500 Atlanta Motor Speedway November 21, 1999 Note: Bobby Labonte scores Pontiac's ninth win of the season and third consecutive victory for Joe Gibbs Racing. Pontiac finishes with nine wins, three more than the six...
NOTES AND QUOTES NAPA 500 Atlanta Motor Speedway November 21, 1999
Note: Bobby Labonte scores Pontiac's ninth win of the season and third consecutive victory for Joe Gibbs Racing. Pontiac finishes with nine wins, three more than the six total from the previous four seasons combined. Labonte led the way with five triumphs. Pontiac also scored 10 poles, 44 top-five and 89 top-10 finishes.
BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "This Interstate Batteries Pontiac was great all day. We had great, quick short runs like that one there at the end. Before that, we had a great run and Jarrett and Mayfield ran us down and caught me. I think I just pushed my right-front tire off because it wasn't too quick to begin with. It felt great. It didn't qualify good Friday and we worked on it all day yesterday and it was pretty awesome today. We did everything wrong this weekend, it seemed like. These guys never gave up. We knew we could run good here, but when I got here Friday I was so loose I was too scared to run. I could not run because I was afraid I was going to wreck. We just took our time and I got my confidence built back up all day Saturday. We got it going. This Interstate Batteries Pontiac was great today and what a way to end the year and the millennium. Joe Gibbs has done a great job with this race team and Jimmy Makar. Joe Gibbs has put together a great team and Jimmy Makar is very instrumental in everything. It's just been a great year. At the end of the year, five wins is just unbelievable. I just can't believe it. Again, congratulations to Dale Jarrett on the championship, he deserved it. He was the best car every weekend this year. We had our mistakes that we needed to fix up on. We'll work on that for next year."
JIMMY MAKAR, crew chief (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix) : "This showed the character of this Interstate Batteries team. You never give up. You don't ever give up. The championship was out of our reach coming into Atlanta and we had only one thing that could make it a good weekend here and that's come out here and try to win the race. We got here with a car that we hadn't run here yet and we really looked bad in qualifying. We really struggled a lot. The guys worked and never gave up and we got a good race setup under the thing. Bobby did a great job driving it. This team has come together so well this year."
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Pontiac Grand Prix): "This wasn't the way we wanted to end the season. This team did a fabulous job of working together all year. We kept digging and pulling together and we never gave up. We've got a lot to be proud of. We're a single-car team and we finished in the top-10 in the point standings. Every time we adjusted the car today (W. Burton, cont.) we killed it. We just couldn't find a happy medium with the chassis. It's discouraging right now, but I'd rather have this coming on the tail end of this year than last year. We're real excited about next year. Right now, I'm still ticked off about today and not getting a top-five or top-10. We've got some areas we've got to work on. There's no question about that. We've got to keep on digging."
Note: Tony Stewart finishes the greatest rookie season in NASCAR history with three wins, landing him fourth in the point standings.
TONY STEWART (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix): "I owe all the thanks to everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and definitely all the people at Home Depot. They've been behind us 100 percent this year. It's hard to explain to everyone how much it means to us to know that 100,000 associates are behind us every Sunday. It's been a great season. It was great to see Bobby win today. Obviously, he's been the biggest help. Having Bobby Labonte is the biggest Christmas present I could have had this year. We're not real happy with the way we finished today, but I'm really happy with the way we performed in our rookie season. "I don't know why we had such great chemistry. It's either there or it's not there. It was there right away with Greg Zipadelli. It was there from our first test session on. That made us pretty excited about the season. That's the way you want to go into a season, knowing that the guy you're working with is someone you can really communicate with. "At the beginning of the season I was a little nervous and tentative about what I was doing in the car. All it took was getting in a lot of laps and a lot of miles. We did a lot of testing early in the season and having Bobby on our side to ask questions, that all helped, too. My confidence level from the beginning of the year to now is just quadrupled many times over. It's just been a phenomenal year. I'm so confident in these cars now. I'm so comfortable in these cars now. I'm a lot more comfortable in these cars than I ever was in a Busch Grand National car. I'm really happy with the decision to come here this year. "We kept working all day and we had a tire where the inner liner cut and it equalized at the beginning of a run and that made it really evil to drive. My hat's off to the guys on the team. They did a great job in getting this car driving good after that first stop. I'm too competitive to accept it, I guess. We had a top-five car and to end up 15th, that's a little disappointing. "I'm really excited to see Bobby win today. We had both struggled here before today. He had a real tough time in qualifying, as I did myself. As far back as he started today he deserved it. He really earned it."
GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix): "We worked on it all day and got it better. We pulled spring rubbers out, pulled the track bar down, put wedge in it, we did a ton of stuff. We got it to where it was pretty decent. We had some other problems. We had a motor that really didn't feel good yesterday and we changed it this morning and it still didn't feel good. I don't know if it was an ignition or fuel problem or something. It just didn't run like it needed to all day. My hat's off to everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing. They did a phenomenal job for me this year. My guys here just stood behind me all year, just like the situation we were in today. I mean we were back in 40th and the driver was frustrated and giving up and we kept working on it. We know that we have the confidence that if we can just get it close we can get the job done. We just needed those couple of yellows to be able to work on it. We were able to get it back up there. We had a problem at the end with a hung lugnut on that last pit stop. That was pretty disappointing. When something like that happens it's kind of out of your control. We still ended up 15th and it was good enough to keep us fourth in points. "We're pretty excited about next year. We just feel like we've got a little something to look back at now. Yesterday when we struggled we didn't have much to look back at. We were here once in the spring with a different car. Weather conditions were a lot different. We're building a notebook that will help us on down the road when we have days like yesterday. That will allow us to make better educated guesses and changes and things."
JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 STP Pontiac Grand Prix): "I guess I was just in front of somebody doing what I thought was pit road speed and evidently his pit road speed was 30 mph more than mine was. He ran over and spun us around. It wasn't so much the hit, but when we hit the wall it broke the front suspension and broke the fuel pump. It took us out. That's certainly not the way you want to go out racing."
TODD BODINE (No. 30 Rudy's Farm Pontiac Grand Prix): "It broke three right-front wheel studs. That's never happened to me before. But if the manufacturer gets a bad run of material or they don't get heat treated properly, that's what happens. I was running up top on the track going slow anyway because I knew something was wrong. We were going to pit the next lap. They broke and it went into the wall. The car was a little tight. We were going to be all right. We were going to get it adjusted and I think we could have gotten a top-10 finish."
BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "I tell you, it was a great weekend for us. It didn't start out like we planned, that's for sure. The first lap on the race track we were so loose, we just couldn't get a hold of it for qualifying. Yesterday morning we didn't worry about requalifying, we just worked on the race car. I got in some laps that built up my confidence. I felt more comfortable running at speed. We weren't quite as good yesterday afternoon as we were yesterday morning. We went back to the setup we ran yesterday morning and adjusted on it from there. "We had a great race car from the beginning, we just started 37th. I just couldn't get situated with the way the car felt Friday. I don't think there's anybody here that I want to qualify bad because my record all year has really been good in qualifying up until Friday. It was a great race car from the beginning. I didn't do very well in it on Friday. From the time the race started Mike Skinner and I took off from the bottom of the race track. The car was stuck on the bottom of the race track and guys were sliding up. We just had to take care of it from there on. "I'm not sandbagging. I've never sandbagged in my life. They slapped my hand at Pocono for winning by nine seconds. I'll slap their hands if they say that. I do not, I cannot. They've screamed at me before to slow down because you're running away with it, so I can't do it. I can't explain. I've never sandbagged in my life. I'm sorry. I don't think I have. "We had a great year. Winning five races is more than I've ever dreamed about thinking we could do at this time. Dale had a great season. Every weekend he was the car to beat consistently. I can think of a big, ol' barrel of tires I hit at Sears Point that really did me in more than anything. That wasn't no sandbagging, I'll tell you that. Week in and week out we stayed there with him. But we lost a gap there and we never could gain it back. We didn't win every race there at the end, but he wasn't falling out either. Congratulations to them because they deserved it. "Actually on the last green flag stop, he (Mayfield) left a lot sooner. He left pit road and man, he took off. We just didn't do as good on that one stop. What my car was doing, on a new set of tires, on restarts, like the last restart, after a lap, it would really go good for 20 laps. Then it started pushing. That's when Dale and Jeremy caught me. I wasn't sandbagging. My car was pushing so bad I could not drive it fast. I moved up to there line and it was a little bit better, but still, it was going to be time to pit again. It was good for those 25 laps and then it would level off and then it would get bad. For whatever reason, my setup today was kind of good for the long run and don't get me wrong, it was great all day, but it was better at the beginning. "I think Steve Park was probably the toughest for one segment of the race. I'm not sure what happened on their pit stop. They didn't come out in front of us. Jeremy Mayfield right there at the end was one of the toughest competitors out there, I thought. He was really strong on the bottom and the top. "I think, yes, we (can challenge for the championship) in a lot of ways. There are still some areas we need to work on. There are things that I learned this year that made me better. I think the team as a whole has gotten better throughout the year. Running up front you learn more. That's what we did this year. Anything can happen next year. We could start off the season really good and not fare well after that. Or we could start off bad and come on at the end. We really didn't know. This is a great way to end the season and we're looking forward to next year, but we don't know what next year holds for us. We know we've got a great race team and we're going to start with the same attitude we had this year, and hopefully, the race tracks we did well at will treat us well again. "Last weekend was last weekend. We didn't worry about that. That's part of it. Tony and I talked about it. He's a great competitor. We knew we had to race this race here and not worry about last weekend. I'm sure people thought that Friday when neither one of us ran very good. Last weekend was great, too. We finished second. We can't ask for nothing better than that. We had a great run, just like today. We're grateful we had the opportunity to run good this weekend. "This year we got a lot closer than we very have been. We learned patience. We learned about fast pit stops, fast race cars. If the car is close enough on Saturday afternoon you can make up for it on Sunday if it wasn't quite right. I think that's helped us out. Yeah, we have learned a lot. When you run up front like we did this year it seems like you do learn a lot. We were close this year and had a shot at it. We can't wait to get started next year to have another shot at it. We'll hopefully make the right breaks we didn't make this year. "I'm not in that red trailer enough and I don't want to be, but Ford and Chevrolet have brand new cars coming out for next year and I don't know how they know what's going to take place. I'm sure they wouldn't be having new cars if they weren't better. They wouldn't have new cars if they were worse. They've got to be better cars. We know that we've worked on our car a lot the past six months, 12 months, two years, three years, because it's the same race car and we know we're going to have it next year. We know that they are going to have new cars next year. I'm sure they're looking forward to it. I don't know what they're going to do with us. I don't make those calls. I don't know how they're going to know without taking them to the wind tunnel. That's the only can they opened up years ago by doing that. That's their only way of telling."