BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: ON BEING THE 2000 NASCAR WINSTON CUP CHAMPION "It feels great! It's an awesome feeling. Yesterday we weren't running that good and we worked really hard last night to see if we...
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
ON BEING THE 2000 NASCAR WINSTON CUP CHAMPION
"It feels great! It's an awesome feeling. Yesterday we weren't running that good and we worked really hard last night to see if we could get it right. We worked hard on it this morning too. We went back to a lot of old things we went to last year. We weren't as good as Tony, but a big congratulations goes out to those guys. We stayed tough the whole day and that's what it's all about. These guys on this Interstate Battery team did a great job. All the guys back at the shop did an awesome job too. It's a great team effort and between the "20" and the "18" car that's what it's all about.
ON BEING IN THE POSITION FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP ALL YEAR
"We've had a great year and it feels great to beat the guys we beat like Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, and Jeff Gordon. It's just awesome. I can't really believe it. You start thinking it's going to happen but you never know until it's over.
ON A COUPLE OF KEY RACES THIS YEAR
"Darlington was a key race for us. We worked hard that weekend coming off that big wreck on that racetrack. But let me tell you one even better then that. Testing in Greenville. We were up there testing and I wrecked it and instead of going home we fixed it and finished testing. Darrell Waltrip came up to us and said that it takes a lot of heart and a lot of hard work to fix that car because we could've easily left. That is what's been like all year - Teamwork."
HOW MUCH DID TERRY MEAN TO YOU THIS YEAR TALKING TO HIM ABOUT WHAT IT TAKES
"Just watching him and going through it with him is a big deal. We talk a lot too but we keep stuff to ourselves as well. I'm still one behind him."
ON NEXT WEEKS RACE
"I told the team that we can get back to racing now." "I do know one thing. It's not too close to call now. It is done, from what they said anyway. It's definitely a great feeling. I'm sure when I wake up tomorrow it will sink in more as it goes on. It's definitely overwhelming and it's the greatest thing. We're worked really hard towards this. It's a lot of weight off my shoulders and off these guys' shoulders and we can breathe a little bit. As much before as I probably portrayed that I breathed fine I probably didn't breathe as fine as I probably should have. But, I wasn't going to try to let anybody in on that. "It's just overwhelming. It's great. I can honestly say, and not as an advertisement with Winston and NASCAR, it's definitely great. They've definitely got a great thing going. To work hard for this and to beat the guys that we beat: Earnhardt, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett - that's what makes it all special, to be the best you can be for 33 or 34 grueling race weekends a year. That's a hard deal. That's where it's satisfying."
ON SHARING YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP LAP WITH TONY STEWART
"It's just a great day for Joe Gibbs Racing. Last year we finished first and second down here. I think it's just a great day for Joe Gibbs Racing. That's what it's all about. It was a great team effort. We've got a great communication between both teams and that's what it was all about today. Tony winning the race - yesterday he looked like he had a fast car - and for him to accomplish that today, winning this race two years in a row. Him winning the race and us winning the championship - I can't say enough about a great feeling for Joe and everybody that works for Joe Gibbs racing. They'll be talking about this for a long time to come. To take a victory lap was just spontaneous and I hope it makes all the headlines. It was pretty cool; there's not doubt about it. For two teams to be able to win on one day - one a race and one a championship - I don't think it really gets much better than that, unless the roles were reversed. Then it would be just as great."
ON BECOMING THE FIRST SET OF BROTHERS - ALONG WITH YOUR BROTHER TERRY - TO
WIN WINSTON CUP TITLES
"That's a great feeling. To be racing with Terry now, to be competitive with him, to go from watching him race hobby stocks at Corpus Christi Speedway when he was 15 and I was eight, watching them tear down a '57 Chevy...I can remember those days, so I guess that's what makes it all special. We've raced for a long time now. To be a part of winning the championship - both of us - I think that's just overwhelming for our family."
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST SPECIAL MOMENTS YOU REMEMBER FROM TODAY SO FAR?
"Obviously the stuff with Tony on the victory lap and then Dale Jarrett came up real early there to victory lane and congratulated the whole team and Joe and Jimmy and myself, and Terry coming to victory lane after he went and got dressed and came back over there, and of course my parents were already there, my family was there, a little champagne bath. I think just being with the whole race team - just standing up there watching them. Week in and week out you really spend a lot of time with the crew members. I was a crew member for a few years there and I know how hard it is to accomplish hard work week in and week out - not just at the race track and the travel, but at the shop and getting everything right. So I kind of have a feeling how they feel. It's very satisfying for them because they are a big part of this race team. We're all in this together. There are a hundred-and-some-odd people at the shop and I'm just one of them. It's just great to see all them being a part of it. That's a neat feeling. "All the fans standing around waiting - after the race was over, coming back around for the victory lap it didn't look like a whole lot of people had left, so I think that was pretty special. "Just being part of [Jimmy Makar]. He is the man behind it. He is the man that doesn't sleep a lot because he works real hard. Just getting to celebrate with him is just a great feeling."
ANY TEARS YET?
"None yet. You don't tear, man, you jump for joy. I don't know about you - I ain't cryin'. Did you see that $3 million check? If it was minus three million, I'd say I'd be crying."
WHAT DO YOU FEEL YOUR MOST CHALLENGING WEEKEND WAS THIS YEAR?
"I guess I would say Darlington because we were just kind of cruising along there. We hadn't run but a couple laps in practice when that (crash) happened. Talk about going from one extreme to the other extreme in a matter of seconds, gong from where we started off where we thought we were pretty good to disaster to starting over again and starting at the back and working our way up and winning the race - I think that was just awesome. What an awesome deal that was. I don't want to do that again, but that was awesome, once you look back on it. To go from near tragedy to triumph - who would have thought? Rockingham, we were just kind of racing. I don't think that was as gut-wrenching as Darlington was. Darlington was pretty much a pivotal point for our race team, I think, to show what they were made of." "Let me tell you about this one here. Greenville-Pickens (Speedway) - this comes to mind. We were down there testing, testing at Greenville-Pickens. Well, who wrecks the car? Me. I drive off into turn three, lock up the brakes, slide in the wall, hit the wall. I come in - Darrell Waltrip was there testing so he can testify to this - we come in and the right front wheel is not turning. You've seen that happen before on the racetrack and usually it's the end of somebody's day. So it's right before lunch time, so we could load up and go home, but we didn't. There were only like four or five of us there at the test. We changed the spindle, upper and lower control arms, Porter-powered the front bumper out, fixed the brake ducts, rear end housing, trailing arm, fixed the brakes back where they were, sheet metal and got it back out there and ran within five hundredths of what we did before we wrecked. Old DW came down there and said, 'Boys, it takes a lot to do that. A lot of people would just load up and go home.' I said, 'Well, yeah, a lot of people would, but we don't.' Nobody was there watching us. Nobody cared. We were just there on our own testing, so we took that car and fixed it and finished our test. It could have been easy to go home, but we finished our test."
HOW MUCH DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE DARLINGTON CRASH AFTERWARD?
"After that happened, it's kind of like gut-wrenching enough - I mean it hurt enough to where it's like, 'Gee, I don't want that to happen again, and I don't want it to be any worse because worse would be a lot worse.' As soon as it was over with and the car came to a stop I wanted to get right back in that race car again because I knew that was the best thing for me to do. I think that was the best thing to do. But once that race started, I didn't press any buttons too hard that day. I was like, 'I hope this thing is going to come around to me because I'm not going to barrel off in that corner as hard as I was early in the day.' It might have looked like it, but I was probably being a little bit on the careful side. If that hadn't have happened I wouldn't have been quite like that. I'm glad I was OK enough to get back on the horse and ride again because I needed to do that real quick. If I hadn't it probably would have been worse."
HAS YOUR PERSONALITY CHANGED SOMEWHAT SINCE YOUR SHORT TRACK DAYS?
"I hope so. I think if have. I think Jimmy can testify to the point that over the past several years that I probably have calmed down a lot. I guess I did take after my dad probably more so than Terry did. But eight years difference - I'm catching him, but I never will. When you're eight and sixteen there is a lot more difference sometimes than when you're 36 and 42, so you kind of close the gap up some. Maybe now that I'm getting older I guess maybe I'm getting more like Bob (Bobby's father) is today. He is calming down, too."
DID YOU EASE UP TOWARDS THE END OF THE RACE?
"I don't think I backed off any. We were just racing. Once that yellow came out it kind of gave us another breath of fresh air because we were like, 'OK, good. This is a free chance to get caught back up,' because we were three-quarters, seven-eighths of a lap down." "But we were still trying to race for that top five finish. We knew that we weren't going to be able to run with the '20' and '28' and the '6' was a close call, the '12' was pretty fast. There at the end of the '28' had a problem, but we wanted to stay right there with them, too. We didn't want to just ride it out the last 30 or 40 laps, so we ran pretty hard there at the end."
HOW DID YOUR PAST CHAMPIONSHIP EXPERIENCES HELP YOU THIS YEAR?
"I think being part of Terry's championship in '84, watching him win it in '96, winning the Busch championship in '91 - I'm just very fortunate to have experienced all that."
DID IT HELP PREPARE YOU FOR THIS YEAR?
"I guess so, in a way. I don't know exactly how, but I would think that it would prepare me somehow or another. It just gave me a little bit more understanding. When I finished 20th in points, I was still trying to win a championship. It just wasn't going to happen. When things were going right in '91 for the Busch championship, we did the same thing as we did this year. Consistency is what it's about. So I guess that prepares you pretty much for the day when a day like this comes around, in a lot of ways. It's still different, but it's kind of the same."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE CHAMPION?
"I just know that looking back on all the previous champions, it's very exciting to be part of that crowd, no doubt. The way that I came up was working on cars or racing here and there, or whatever. I would not change that for anything, of course, because it's all satisfying, it's all worthwhile, and I know that to be a part of all the great champions of the past is just pretty cool. I hope that they can say that at the end of the day that I was a good champion for the series. I think it's just satisfying, I guess. To do the things that I did, to come up the way that I did was just satisfying for me. I wouldn't want it any other way. "This is bigger than everything else, but the goals that you set out to do, whether it's to win this race or win this championship or win the Daytona 500 or whatever your goals are -- I think it just goes back to satisfaction, just total satisfaction of how my life has gone from racing quarter-midgets to watching races to racing a little bit, racing against Dale Earnhardt in 1980 at Caraway in a late model sportsman car, to working on cars, to racing late models again, to Busch cars, to Winston Cup, I think that's just a neat trend. I could have gone many different ways, but I was very fortunate that people gave me great opportunities. It's ironic sometimes that some people changing their opportunities gave me a break. Jeff Gordon leaving Bill Davis to go drive for Rick Hendrick gave me a break to drive for Bill Davis. If I hadn't had that I wouldn't be here. If Dale Jarrett hadn't left Joe Gibbs and I got released from Bill Davis to drive for Joe Gibbs I wouldn't be here. It's ironic how a lot of things happen in a lot of ways, but it's definitely a cool path to take. There is no doubt about it."
WHAT WILL YOUR APPROACH BE TO THE ATLANTA RACE NOW THAT YOU'VE WON THE
"Business as usual, I hope. We've worked really hard at this and we don't want to just knock her up in neutral and let her coast for a while. We're still racing each weekend to win. We're not going to sit back and say, 'We got one. Let's coast.' That's not what [Jimmy] wants to do. One of these days we will, but it ain't going to be today."
CAR OWNER, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX AND NO.
20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
"Well I don't know how to put it into words. I think I held my breath and I didn't think you could do that for 30 laps. I told everyone if they asked me which track was my favorite I told them Homestead! Last year we finished first and second and this year we won the championship and won the race. I don't think anyone could be happier. Our group is kind of a quite group but I'd say right now that they are having the biggest celebration I think I've seen over there. I know that Tony's group is excited too. Really when you look out there that is what excites me the most - there are so many stories out there. Norman Miller gambles nine years ago and decided to sponsor a racecar when you didn't have a nut or a bolt and to see him apart of a championship is a great story. When you look around and see everyone happy and enjoying the win, that's what makes it enjoyable for me."
ON WINNING MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIPS IN DIFFERENT SPORTS
"During my last Super Bowl against Minnesota I was standing next to Charles Manning and he said that the fun was getting here. When I think back the similarity is so close between this and football. It's the best people in the world trying to do something. Over here it took nine years. In football I think we went to three super bowls in nine years. It's very hard and you have to have a group of dedicated people. You have to have great pit stops, office people, shop people, and engineering etc. It's hard to get a group like that. What I think is so great about this sport is that you can't buy it. It's chemistry. It takes a certain kind and I'm the most fortunate person in the world because when I look around at the people around here I know I am around great people."
"People always ask me if I thought about championships when I got into racing and I've got to tell the truth, the only thing I was thinking about was surviving. I remember when my wife and I went to a party and once we left she looked at me and said 'we're in the wrong deal.' I looked at her and said I know I don't know if we'll survive it. You start out like that, in three years we only won one race. This is a tough deal and I think that's why I appreciate it so much. I certainly didn't think we'd be like this."
ON THE TALK BEFORE RACE
"We had a little team prayer there and I said it's been nine years and this is what we've been waiting for so lets give it our best shot. I don't have that much to say on this deal. I pretty much pick the people, stay out of the way and pay the bills. That's an excitement in itself trying to pay the bills. I think a lot of those guys have worked very hard for a long time and I told them to go out and do the best they could and Bobby will do his."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE GUYS THAT WIN THE MOST RACES GET REWARED MORE
"That's a hard one for me. I don't think that's my place to comment. I think if you change the rules you're going to race accordingly. I think Bobby was aggressive all year and he got four wins, and he went after it all year long. I know that was their game plan. But this is a pretty tough deal. I mean we had run 32 races and still didn't have the deal sealed up. In football the most you ever play is 21. This is 32 hard grinding weeks where you have to be there every week. And the think is in football if you have a 30-point lead you can coast. In this you can't coast at all. You don't know what's coming." "I thought I would always coach. I never thought I would be involved in racing. I thought my son and the others I sent down with Jimmy would be the ones that would run it. I think they did a great job, and I probably could've done that. Because really I'm dead serious my part in this is not much. But when I got out of coaching it was the natural thing to do to get involved and I love it. I really do appreciate the competition. I really thought I would continue coaching and somebody else would run the team."
CONTRAST BETWEEN BOBBY AND TONY
"Tony is very emotional, driven to win, explodes but that is his personality. Over time he will be able to control that I hope. Bobby is more reserved and controlled. But Bobby will go off at times. He has it in him." "The strength of our race team is probably Jimmy, Bobby, and myself. Back when Dale left it was Jimmy, everyone, and myself. We all sat there and discussed it and all of us wanted Bobby. The problem was he had a complicated deal going on of his own. So we make our decisions together. Then when we turned around and picked Tony, Bobby and Jimmy were in on the discussions saying what they thought we needed. We do everything as a group. I don't want to upset this race team. We all have to work together."
ON WHEN HE KNEW THEY COULD BE A CONTENDER FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP
"I would say last year is when I said that we had a chance at the championship with Bobby. We finished second and raced hard all year. Before that we were the kind of team that could win races but not a championship so I would say last year." "That is very much of my concern. I am afraid the higher we go with the sponsorship is going to rule out some companies. I'd say with Interstate, I don't know, but I would say that they spend 85% of their marketing dollars on this because they're not a big company and that's kind of scary. We just signed a five-year deal with them and we signed a five-year deal with Home Depot. But, for the smaller companies I am worried about that. It's a big step. We wouldn't have taken our deal if we didn't think we could compete. We feel great about that. It's a great feeling. I'm sure when I wake up tomorrow it will have sunk in a little more. It's overwhelming. We've worked hard to get here. It takes a lot off my shoulders and the team's shoulders. We can finally breathe a little bit. It's great. To beat the guys we beat, Earnhardt, Burton and Dale Jarrett is what makes it all special. Being on the road this much is a hard deal so that's where it's satisfying. It was a great day for Joe Gibbs racing."
CREW CHIEF, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
ON WHAT HE IS FEELING
"It is tough to explain. This is one of the goals that I made for myself and to Joe back in 1991 when we met and decided to go racing together. There were three goals in my mind that I wanted to do. They were to build him a successful racing team, win races, and win a championship. It's taken nine years but we finally did it. It's very satisfying to finally accomplish that goal. Anyone that has won a championship will tell you it's a hard, long road. Anybody can win a race or two, but these championships are something you have to work into. You have to build a team and get the right driver. The guy upstairs decides what happens, even though we might have the talent he's got to make it happen for us. It's remarkable to see it all come together. It's been very gratifying."
WHAT ARE THE TEAMS PLANS FOR ATLANTA
"We're going to Atlanta and race hard like we've been wanting to do for the past few months. We've got some things that we've been wanting to do that we haven't been able to do because it's been a little bit on the edge. We've just been afraid to do it until now. We're going to have a little bit of fun in Atlanta and let our hair down and go race hard and see what happens."
ON TALKING ABOUT THE CHAMPIONSHIP WITH BOBBY
"I'll be honest with you. Bobby and I talked about it after Phoenix. Saturday of Phoenix we thought we had a real good racecar. We thought we could win and we kind of fell on our faces. It didn't do what we thought it could do. After a day or two of coming home after that, we talked and we both realized we were both really upset about it. We made a pack we were going to try and win the pole and win the race and put this thing to bed. We wanted it all and that's the way we came down here. Anybody would be happy with third but I can tell you that Bobby and I were a little disappointed. We didn't have a good practice yesterday and we changed some things, and made some mistakes. Last night we looked at a lot of paper work and came in this morning and changed a lot of things. We had been from Tony's set up to our old setup and everything else in between. We finally found the right combination and it turned out great for us. We knew that the points would just work out for themselves and they did."
ON THE COMPARISON TO HIS PAST CHAMPIONSHIP
"It's different. That was a great time too. We had a smaller team then. It's got a lot of special memories for me just like this one does. The most special one is the one you win today and that's what makes it special for me. To go from nothing in 1991 to now is great. I am very proud to be apart of it."