DETROIT, April 24, 2001 - After getting off to a tough start in 2001, Bobby Labonte has his No. 18 Pontiac Grand Prix performing a lot like the car he drove to the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup title, and that can't be good news to the rest of his ...
DETROIT, April 24, 2001 - After getting off to a tough start in 2001, Bobby Labonte has his No. 18 Pontiac Grand Prix performing a lot like the car he drove to the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup title, and that can't be good news to the rest of his competitors.
Labonte heads to California Speedway for this weekend's event on the heels of an eighth-place finish at Martinsville and a fifth at Talladega. His resurgence over that stretch has lifted him from 25th to 14th in the Winston Cup point standings, just 49 points out of the 10th position.
With two good weeks already in place, Labonte is looking at the next six races, knowing it is a stretch that could put him back in the thick of the points race. He posted a second at California last year, a second at Richmond in the fall of 1999, is a two-time winner at Charlotte, won the spring race at Dover in '99, is a three-time winner at Michigan and has two career victories at Pocono.
With Labonte at the head of the "WideTrack Attack" in 2000, the Grand Prix produced more wins per car fielded than anyone else in NASCAR.
Thoughts From Bobby Labonte, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
ON HIS OUTLOOK FOR CALIFORNIA
"Last time we went out there we didn't qualify all that good, but we raced excellent. I like that racetrack. The groove has gotten wider the past couple years so you can try different lines. It's kind of like Michigan and that is my favorite track. California has those same characteristics, so that makes me feel even better about going out there."
AFTER MARTINSVILLE AND TALLADEGA - TWO TRACKS WHERE YOU DON'T CONTROL YOUR OWN DESTINY AS MUCH - HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE GOING TO A PLACE WHERE YOU ARE MORE IN CONTROL?
"I think it's great. Last year we started 36th, which is pretty close to dead-last, and still came back to finish second. That kind of run gives you confidence that you can start in the back at a place like that and still run up front, as long as you get your car handling right."
DOES THIS NEXT STRETCH OF RACES LOOK APPEALING TO YOU, BASED ON YOUR SUCCESS IN THE PAST?
"Yeah, it sure does. This stretch is usually about the same every year and it's been pretty good for us in the past. Hopefully, we've gotten over the string of failures that we had earlier this year, can get back on track and not have any problems. But, as far as liking the racetracks that we're going to, they're no different to me than the ones we've been to already, except for the fact we had those problems. But we're definitely looking forward to the next few weeks. It should make it a lot more fun for us."
WHAT HAS THE TEAM'S ATTITUDE BEEN LIKE THROUGH THE UPS AND DOWNS THIS YEAR?
"We started the year off in a hole a little bit. At Rockingham we started to pull ourselves out, but then we went to Las Vegas and Atlanta and had bad finishes so we had to re-focus ourselves and start thinking differently. But for the most part, we've all kept our noses to the grindstone, working on stuff like we always do. We're looking towards the future all the time.
"Goodyear has brought out a different tire this year and it's taken me a little while to get used to that. You hate to harp on what is different about it because it is just a different feel. It's no different that one person liking the temperature at 72 degrees and somebody else liking it at 68. It's just a different comfort level. But I think we've gotten better at it the past few weeks and it's coming around. That makes you feel better and it gives the guys confidence. We can see progress and then they're more excited. If you keep going like that it makes it a lot better.
"As far as the team goes, we all hate what happened the past few weeks with having some DNFs and some bad finishes. We're all trying to get back on track. Heading to California 14th in points is the biggest confidence booster we've had in a while."
IS IT MORE FRUSTRATING TO STRUGGLE ON YOUR WAY TO BECOMING A CHAMPION OR TO STRUGGLE AFTER YOU'VE WON A CHAMPIONSHIP?
"That's an easy one to answer: this year, no question about it. Once you get a taste of it, you don't ever want to lose it. If you've never been there, you don't know what it feels like and what you're missing. At this point in time, I think all of us are like, 'Man, this is crushing us because we definitely want to be back on top.' Last year we led the points for almost the whole season and the year before that we were second for almost the whole season, so you're thinking, 'You know, those are a couple pretty good places to be.'
"It really makes you appreciate what we did last year more so than ever before. You can get stuck in a rut, whether you're running good or running bad. We were running good and didn't think we could run bad. Now we're running good again and it's like, 'How did we ever do that before?' We've just got to work back towards that."
HOW DISTRACTING HAS IT BEEN TO DEAL WITH ALL THE SAFETY ISSUES AND PRESSURES THAT WENT INTO THE TALLADEGA RACE?
"It's been real distracting. We're glad to get through it. I'm glad Sunday turned out like it did. Everybody did a great job, but a lot of it has to do with luck because when you put yourself in a position like that for that many miles it's just a matter of time before something happens and it doesn't have to be anybody's fault. It could be that something happened on the racetrack or something happened to somebody's car, and the next thing you know there is a 20-car pileup.
"Getting through Sunday was definitely a relief. I feel like between now and Daytona [in July] won't be quite as big a deal as it was between the Daytona 500 and Talladega."