DETROIT (Sept. 19, 2000) - Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte took over the top spot in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings with a second-place finish at California Speedway on April 30. In the 16 races since California, Labonte...
DETROIT (Sept. 19, 2000) - Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte took over the top spot in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings with a second-place finish at California Speedway on April 30. In the 16 races since California, Labonte has occupied the No. 1 position, maintaining his lead with a consistent run of top-five and top-10 finishes. For the season, he only has two finishes outside the top 15 and 11 inside the top three, and has been the points leader after 23 of the 26 races this season.
Labonte and his team owner, Joe Gibbs, site plenty of reasons for their incredible run in 2000 - one of which is the team's "business-like" approach, week in and week out. That approach turned Labonte into a contender last year and now has him in a position to win his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship.
THOUGHTS FROM BOBBY LABONTE, NO 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
...does a driver have to lose a championship before he can win one: "I don't know. I think it's all what you make of it, what you think about it. I don't know Juan Montoya's story before last year, but he definitely didn't lose one before he one won - in CART. Now I don't know what he did before that. He might have lost several by one point. But in CART, he definitely proved that wrong. "I'm not saying that we're going to prove it wrong, also. I'm not saying that we haven't paid our dues at some point in time, also. I think it's just relative to what you're doing right now. When you're with a good race team that is consistent and has been there week in and week out, that doesn't make you have to lose one to win one."
...what did he learn in last year's points race that is helping him this year?: "Obvious things. Consistency. Learning how to race for the wins that add up to points instead of making as many mistakes as before. Last year there were a lot of things that just kind of happened that you just can't explain why, but it's a little different running for first, second or third in points than running for seventh, eighth, ninth or 10th in points. It's just a different feeling and a different factor. It's hard to explain other than your focus is different. Everything goes right for you, so you focus more on the things that are going for you instead of the few things that might go bad for you."
...on the secret to his consistency: "I guess it's just a 'work in progress' pattern. We've worked hard at it. Since I started driving for Joe, each year things have just kind of slowly, meticulously been a little bit better and a little bit better and a little bit better, building up to this situation. Last year we finished second in points, which was great. But we had that same model of consistency that we have this year. There are no guarantees that everything you do is going to make you consistent because there are a lot of things that could happen to you that will make you have a DNF or make you have bad finishes that you have no control over."
"You just try to be cautiously aggressive on everything with the thought process to be as consistent as possible, and at the end of the day when you are, you learn from that. Of course, when you aren't, you learn from that, too. But we haven't been and we learned from that and feel like we've gotten better. Hopefully we keep doing it so we can be considered a consistent runner week in and week out."
...how have you developed your smooth, clean driving style?: "From years of screwing up and not being very smooth and very clean. That's true. Really, it is. It's a deal where I've done a lot of things growing up racing that didn't start off that way, for sure. "Experience is a big part of it. And having 'The Iceman' as your brother and having that in your genes probably helps out. I'm not a totally opposite of him. I'm a little opposite, but not in a lot of ways, or it's not necessarily on the racetrack as much as it is in my personal life. But thought processes are similar. "But it just comes from experience and being with a good race team that teaches you things, from thinking about discipline, self-discipline, talking about mistakes we've made in the past that we don't need to make again. Everywhere you go, you just try to figure out what to do the next time you go back to it. If it's a new racetrack, my thought is that you approach it the same way: 'Let's go out there and feel what we've got, proceed on to getting a little faster, see where the competition is. Can we be a contender? If we're not, let's get the best out of it and go home, then learn from that.'"
...what has been the most difficult thing to deal with in the title chase this year?: "Avoiding the questions from people week in and week out. Other than that, I haven't really seen anything a whole lot different, to be honest with you. It's just what you want to make of it. I haven't made anything of it other than that it's a whole lot better leading than it is running second because it's more exciting. You're focused more on one thing than on other things maybe. Trying to play catch up, you've got to think of a lot of things as you're trying to proceed forward. That's me personally. Not everybody has the same comment. "But this is a lot more fun. I've enjoyed it. I don't think it's been any big deal. Not saying this won't change because it probably will, but so far I can't say that I've seen anything that's been harder, been more difficult or been frustrating or challenging or anything. It's been focus, focus, focus."
...on the strength of his team: "There is no 'I' in team and that's the way it is with our bunch. It's been a lot of dedication and hard work on their parts. The past three weeks have been trying for us, as far as a lot of things go. Two weeks ago at Darlington, the '20' car (Tony Stewart) had tested there, and we used their set-up for practice Saturday morning because our car was destroyed Friday. They helped us getting our stuff ready Friday. Then to come back with our team on pit stops Sunday and winning the race was just phenomenal. We still had a top-five car, but we weren't going to win the race. Still we were going to finish in the top five, which is still a great team effort. Everybody has worked real hard at it. "Then last weekend we had a problem and we finished 15th. But nobody gave up. Everybody worked real hard this week and came up here with high hopes and high attitudes to run good, and we sat on the pole and finished second. You really can't ask for much more than that." "We've been real fortunate. We've got a great bunch of guys. Pit stops have been awesome. Our teamwork is great. Jimmy Makar leads a great team. I just feel like I'm real fortunate that I'm with a group of guys that can put the driver in a position to win races. Anybody out there that is driving this car could be in the same boat. It's just a lot of fun. You've to have a group of guys like that to be successful and that's what we've got right now."
THOUGHTS FROM JOE GIBBS, CAR OWNER, NO 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES GRAND PRIX AND NO. 20 HOME DEPOT GRAND PRIX:
...on the management differences between being an NFL coach and a NASCAR team owner: "I think it's just more out of my hands now in an ownership role. Being the kind of owner that I am - not the technical guy - my job is to pick the people, get the resources, keep everything coming to Jimmy (Makar) and the guys, and then they've got to make it happen on the track. Is it a different feeling? Totally different for me. It was hard to adjust to. It's better from the standpoint of, 'I couldn't fix it anyway,' so I'm more relaxed at the track and everything, even though I still get uptight. But on the other side of it, it gets to be a little frustrating because you're used to kind of being hands-on and making something happen. Over here I can't, so it's been an adjustment."
...does he like being the points leader that everyone is shooting at, or would he rather be pressuring someone for first?: "I'd always rather be first than I would be chasing somebody. For me, I like the fact that we've worked all the way to this point of the season and we're first. I'd much rather be there than chasing somebody."
...has he seen a difference in the approach of the team as the possibility of a championship becomes more an issue: "I think for the last two years it's pretty much been the same. We realize that you only get opportunities like this every now and then. You only get a driver that is at his peak for so many years, and the team and everything to go around him. I think it started last year. That was the first time we could seriously say that we raced for a championship. We could win races and everything, but to seriously be a championship contender - that came last year. I think the attitude has pretty much been the same last year and this year. We always look at each week saying, 'Is there something we can do to improve the team?' We did that in the off-season. 'Is there anybody we can add? Is there any way we can make ourselves a better race team?' I think that's been going on for the last two years."
...on his instincts for hiring people: "Here's the way we do things at the race shop. We're pretty much a committee. For example, when it came time to picking Tony Stewart, there was Jimmy Makar in the room, Bobby Labonte was in the room - because their careers are wrapped up in this - it was my son J.D., and all of them from the front office. We all sat there and talked our way through who would be the best person to be a teammate, and everybody came up with only one name - we didn't have two - Tony Stewart, and they said, 'Joe, go get him.' "Then you look on the other side of it with Greg (Zipadelli). That's another example where we all sat and talked about it. We went through a list and he was never on the list." "Then it came down to the end and Jimmy Makar came to me one night and said, 'Hey, I've got an idea here. What do you think about Greg Zipadelli?' And I wanted to say, 'Hey, you're nuts. What are you going to do, put a young guy with a young guy? That's crazy.' But when I met with Greg, it was just almost immediately that you could say, 'Hey, this is probably the right guy.' But Jimmy deserves the credit for that."
...how did he learn to be open to other people's ideas when he is evaluating someone for his organization?: "It was nothing that I learned from a book or anything. It's just in coaching we had a coaching staff of 12 guys, and I think we always made better decisions when we sat and talked about it. Eventually it falls back in your lap. You've got to make the final call. But in most cases when you talk your way through it and you've got real good people that are dedicated to the team - you've got 12 minds in there, you've got seven or eight over here - you make pretty good decisions that way."