DETROIT (June 27, 2000) - After a successful road-course outing at Sears Point last weekend, Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte takes his 67-point lead in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings to Daytona International Speedway for...
DETROIT (June 27, 2000) - After a successful road-course outing at Sears Point last weekend, Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte takes his 67-point lead in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings to Daytona International Speedway for the Pepsi 400. Labonte is looking for his first career victory in the points race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, and if he accomplishes that feat Saturday, it will have a lot to do with the sharp eye and good advice of his spotter, Eddie Masencup.
Masencup, who works full time as a pilot for Bobby's older brother Terry Labonte, has been calling races for the younger Labonte for more than a decade - the past four seasons in Winston Cup. Over the years, he has sharpened his skills and now knows just what it takes to get his driver through the chaos that exists during a restrictor-plate race on the Winston Cup circuit.
THOUGHTS FROM BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX
...was he at more of a disadvantage at Daytona in February than he is for this week's race: "I think in qualifying we maybe were (at a disadvantage) a little bit, but I don't think it was that bad. We were OK, but just not quite as good as we wanted to be. They (the Fords) might have been a little better than us. "But as far as the race goes I felt like we kept making improvements as we went, so I wasn't disappointed with that. We just didn't quite have everything we wanted for the race, but I think we were competitive when it came down to it."
...is he comfortable with where his team is at as the midpoint of the season approaches?: "I don't feel comfortable because we want to be better than where we are now, as far as wins go, and top fives and top 10s. But we've got to take what we've got, build off that and learn what we can off that. I feel like we're definitely on the good part of everything. We would also like to just make sure we don't screw up anywhere as we go either."
...on what he expects from a spotter at Daytona: "It's pretty simple really. I obviously want to make sure that they are looking forward, out ahead. Behind you is not near as important, of course, unless you're not running good and guys are coming up on you. But forward is the big key, just in case you miss something or something gets in your way and you can't see through it. "Also you just want them to be aware of things that happen on the racetrack - if you're on the front straightaway, make sure they let you know whatever happened on the back straightaway so that you're aware of what could be happening over there, even as far as debris so you won't cut down a tire or something."
...does he expect more from the spotter when the draft goes three-wide: "A lot of times I do. If we're two-wide, I know that. But sometimes you can't see if there is a third car that's underneath if you're on the outside. A lot of times you do have to rely on that. Then all he'll do is let you know that you're three-wide. So you're aware of it and then you're like, 'OK, I'm backing off. I'm not going to be part of it.' But it's usually pretty good. Eddie is real good. He normally doesn't talk a whole lot.
"When he clears me, I know I'm clear before he says, 'Clear.' I feel like he is just reassuring my thought process, but I'm happy about that. He never says, 'Clear,' when I'm not clear.
"But we usually don't say a whole lot The big thing is he doesn't have to clear me as much as I'd like for him to make sure there is nothing happening around the racetrack that we can't see. I don't want to run over something, don't want to be involved in something that you can't see or whatever. He might let me know sometimes if a couple guys are running different grooves."
...does he want to hear about what groove other cars are running on the racetrack: "It's not bad if you're searching for stuff. And it's happened where you think you're doing pretty good on the bottom and all of a sudden the top groove is better for some guys, so you might give it a try. Maybe it's something you've already tried before, but sometimes we might try it again."
...what he likes about Eddie Masencup as a spotter: "He's a pilot. To me, a pilot is confident. When they talk on the radio to the air traffic controllers, they're positive what they're saying, they know where they're at, they know what's going on. They have the answers. They're not saying, 'Well, hold on a second. Let me check here.' They're really calm, too, on the radio."
...how much motivational talk does he want from Masencup during a race: "He doesn't really have to do that. He'll remind me of how far we have to go, tell me not to wear my stuff out, things like that. But it's not like an every-lap thing where he is saying, 'Yee-hah, you missed the wall. You're doing good. You look pretty,' and all that stuff."
THOUGHTS FROM EDDIE MASENCUP, SPOTTER, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX
...how nerve-wracking is it for a spotter at a restrictor-plate race?: "Daytona and Talladega are the two worst tracks for me because of the closeness and the speed that they have at those two places. You're on pins and needles the whole day. I go way back with Bobby and Terry both. I spotted for Bobby when he first started in Busch in probably '88 or '89. It's different when you know the guys as personally as I do Bobby and Terry. You don't want to see anything happen to them - not just them, but all the competitors out there. You get to know them.
"But because of the closeness with the draft and the restrictor plates there at Daytona and Talladega, it's tough. It's a tough day. On Mondays I am beat, by the time I spot all day and then fly home that night. I'm not getting out of bed until 9 or 9:30 on Monday.
"Your stomach really gets to churning on race day. I don't want to say butterflies, but you do get nervous prior to racing on those two racetracks."
...what is he looking for during a race?: "A lot of spotters concentrate on their car so much, they're really not looking down the track. I don't want to say they are 'driving the car,' but their eyes are right there on the car. I've seen it happen before. Bobby can see 200 yards in front of him. But whenever he is in turn one he can't see what is in turn two because of the banking of the track. I never realized that until I went around the track in a car. When you're looking out the front of your car you can't see that far because of the banking. You can only see maybe 200 or 300 feet, so I try to stay in front of Bobby.
"My primary job is to get Bobby and that car back in one piece. If I take care of Joe Gibbs's car and Bobby Labonte, I've done my job. I'm a safety feature up there, and that's it. A lot of guys carry it too far. I'm there just to keep Bobby out of trouble."
...on "deal-making" that goes on during a restrictor-plate race: "It happens a lot at a restrictor-plate race. But a lot of that goes out the window. You can make a deal, and that's fine, but we're not the ones holding the (steering) wheel. Drivers are going to do what the want to do when it comes down to two (laps) to go, or the white-flag lap. Lots of times those deals go out the window and you see a lot of hurt feelings. But hey, everybody is out there for one reason and that's to win. I never get upset at anyone for not doing what they said they were going to do. If you put yourself in the driver's spot, they want to get to the finish line first. We all want to win. I want to win, also. But more often than not, you see deals go out the window."
...do some spotters try to intimidate other spotters during a race?: "Occasionally. Some guys really take it more personal than they should. They'll get mad and shake their fists at each other. But there's not need for that. We're up there as a safety feature. We're not up there to try to manipulate the race. If we get our drivers and cars back in one piece, we've done our job. A lot of guys think they have more of a role than that, and they really don't."