DETROIT, June 5, 2001 - Pontiac drivers Bobby Labonte and Kenny Wallace are at very different points in their respective racing careers, but both share the same goal of improvement. Labonte has been fighting to defend his 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup...
DETROIT, June 5, 2001 - Pontiac drivers Bobby Labonte and Kenny Wallace are at very different points in their respective racing careers, but both share the same goal of improvement.
Labonte has been fighting to defend his 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship while Wallace has been fighting for his team's existence in the sport.
As the Winston Cup Series heads to Michigan International Speedway this week for the 14th event of the season, Labonte finds himself ranked 12th in the point standings while Wallace holds down the 41st position. Both drivers are part of the 2001 "WideTrack Attack," which is looking to recapture the form it displayed in 2000 when it produced more wins per car fielded than anyone else in NASCAR.
Bobby Labonte, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT HEADING TO MICHIGAN?
"I'm real excited about it. After the way we ran at Charlotte, I feel pretty good about it. I'm excited about going back up there."
DOES IT HELP TO KNOW THAT IT'S A PLACE YOU'VE WON AT BEFORE?
"That doesn't really play in my mind all that much. I don't look at tracks that way, for the most part. Even a place like Martinsville, which I haven't won at yet, I don't think about it any differently than a place like Michigan. You still have the same ambitions.
"I look forward to races all the time, but more so when I feel like we've got a chance to run good. That has more to do with the way we're running now than what we've done there in the past. We've been running better the last few weeks, so that is what makes me look forward to Michigan. "Even though Michigan has been a good track for me before, doesn't mean that it's going to be a good track for me again. But I'm glad to be heading there with the way we've been running lately."
DID THE COKE 600 DO A LOT FOR YOUR CONFIDENCE?
"It was good. I was glad to see us have that kind of run. I don't think running good just one race is going to make us say, 'OK, now we're over the hump and we're going to be home free.' It's not like that, but at least it gives you enthusiasm for the next week. What we learned in that race we can take, put that in the 'memory bank' and then keep adding to it - adding the positives that we gained out of it. That's the best thing for me. We got a positive out of that race and I'm very glad we did what we did there. Hopefully we can build on that."
WHAT IS THE ATTITUDE OF THE TEAM RIGHT NOW?
"Everybody has been good -- attitude-wise. We've just been trying to take everything one step at a time. We're kind of in 'start-over mode.' "You hear a lot of people say that you've got to crawl before you walk, walk before you run, etc. Right now a fifth is almost like a victory in a way. It just makes you feel like you're getting your old form back, but you just take it one race at a time. "Even though we haven't been thrilled with what we've done so far, we know that a lot of teams would love to run that way. It's all relative."
Kenny Wallace, No. 27 Duke's Mayonnaise Pontiac Grand Prix
(WHAT DID THE NEW SPONSORSHIP DEAL DO FOR THE TEAM?
"First of all, we're running the rest of the races now. Yes, it's just a 15-race deal. But what a lot of people didn't understand is that even though the sponsorship is a 15-race deal, it stopped the bleeding to where the owner (Jack Birmingham) can go ahead, fund the rest of the year out of his own pocket and run all of them.
"Duke's Mayonnaise bailed us out. There was no sun on the horizon for this team for a minute. We've been out here racing on a budget that is coming out of a man's pocket and we're up against teams that have $5 million to $10 million sponsors. When you're pulling $5 million to $7 million out of a man's pocket and everybody else has a $5 million head start on you, it makes it to where you can't do what you want to do.
"What we're going to try to do and what we can do are two different things. But what the sponsor bought us was the opportunity to pull our heads out of our butts and concentrate on racing. That's the biggest thing. We get to be a race team again. It's real easy for people to sit back and say, 'Look, you've still got a motor, you've still got a car, you've still got tires.' It doesn't work that way because every week we were up against a 'shutdown mode.' Every Thursday around noontime was when we were told whether we were going to race or not. We just weren't strong enough to act like that wasn't a problem and it drove us crazy.
"Now we're trying to step up the pace and bring a faster race car to the track every week. How we go about that is up to us.
"We've had some problems under the hood. This money has helped us try to fix that. Obviously, it would also be nice to run down to Kentucky [Speedway] like 95 percent of these teams have and learn a little bit. Testing can be good; it can be bad. We just need to gain more knowledge.
"We're working hard to get this car running better right now. But we're also working to get this deal put to bed for a couple years. There are a lot of teams out here looking for sponsorship for next year and we're just one of them.
"We know that this sponsorship gave us another chance and we want to make the most out of it."
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH ON THE RACETRACK NOW THAT THE SPONSORSHIP SITUATION IS SOLVED FOR THE MOMENT?
"The biggest thing we've got to accomplish right now - and it's sad to say, but it's true - we've got to get to where we can start running with the pack. "We've made all the races but one (Talladega). Now we've got to get faster, stay out of trouble and get some consistency. We've got to get our team in a situation where we're racing the whole race. If we run 30th, then that's just the way it is. But we've got to get racing. That's the first thing."
WHAT IS THE ATTITUDE OF THE TEAM AFTER EVERYTHING IT'S GONE THROUGH THIS YEAR?
"I can promise you this: as bad as it looks over here, the guys that are here have not given up. They're not here for a paycheck. They're here because they love racing. We're not just here trying to finish the year out or anything like that. I've got too much pride to just be in a car. The rest of this year is about saving face, saving grace. We've got to get this car to where we quit getting lapped so much. We've got to get more speed out of it and we're working on that. We're working hard on it."