BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: HAS THERE BEEN ANY EXTRA SATISFACTION IN BEING ABLE TO OUTRUN DALE EARNHARDT DURING THE LAST PART OF THIS SEASON? "I think it's just been satisfying the way we've been running this...
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
HAS THERE BEEN ANY EXTRA SATISFACTION IN BEING ABLE TO OUTRUN DALE
EARNHARDT DURING THE LAST PART OF THIS SEASON?
"I think it's just been satisfying the way we've been running this year 100 percent anyway. Right now, leading the points with Dale Earnhardt behind you - I know it's special because it is Dale Earnhardt, but knowing the other teams that are out there now that we're ahead of, too, are real special. I guess he won't let me live it down if it doesn't happen for a long time, more so than anybody else would. But it's been a lot of fun. I can remember racing at Caraway Speedway, probably back in 1981 racing in a late model race and I was spun out on the back straightaway. He was there racing that night and he pointed his finger at me then kind of like he would today, so some things don't change. He pointed his finger like, 'You shouldn't be spun out.' He's done that to me before, too, in Winston Cup racing, so I think that's kind of special."
WHAT MISTAKES HAVE YOU OR YOUR TEAM NOT MADE THIS YEAR THAT WERE MADE IN
"I can't really name the team as much as the driver. I know the driver screwed up really bad at Sears Point last year and the driver didn't screw up quite so bad this year. I know at Daytona last year we had a part failure on the intake during the Daytona 500. Any race that you can count throughout the year where you have something go wrong is definitely pretty important as hard as it is to get points this year. Consistency is the key. The driver made more than one mistake, but that one at Sears Point just always sticks out in everybody's mind."
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST PART OF THIS SEASON?
"The whole year. Winning Indianapolis, winning the Southern 500 after a weekend like we went through. Then we can even go back and I can remember having to go second round qualifying at California in Fontana because we weren't in the field. Instead of taking a provisional we ended up 36th. It wasn't that big a deal. We only picked up one spot. We weren't second round fastest, but we struggled to get to 36th and from there we went to second place in the race. Weekends like that were good because at the end of the day on Sunday - we didn't win the race, but man, we sure did feel like we did. We did win Indy, we did win the Southern 500 and we won a couple others, too - Charlotte and Rockingham. All those races are special, but sometimes it's the toughest days that make the best of the year. But all year long, just being competitive week in and week out, I think is the most exciting part of it."
WHAT WOULD WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP MEAN TO YOU?
"It's hard to speculate on a (Winston Cup) championship since I've never won one. But I guess it would mean just a great accomplishment with the team you're driving for. Obviously the team that I'm driving for -- we're excited about week in and week out. We're great friends and have a lot of fun together. As much hard work as you have to put into it and as much of an accomplishment that you get out of it means more than anything. To be written down on a piece of paper somewhere - it might sound kind of hokey - but I guess it's real important to have your name on a piece of paper like that with all the champions one day."
"When you see those guys out there that have been past champions, I think to be a part of that crowd - not everybody is going to be able to be there, but everybody wants to be. Your chances are pretty slim of getting there, but I think if you do get there that is the most exciting part about it. That's what it's all about - just the chance of being part of a crowd that is a very limited few over the many that try to do it. It's a very prestigious trophy. Even all the Presidents the other night when they were all lined up, that was kind of cool - even though you wouldn't want to be any of them, but it was still pretty cool because all of them were up there. Really, you wouldn't want to be in their position, but it was kind of cool that they were all standing up there for that picture. It was pretty neat."
ANY ADVICE FROM YOUR BROTHER TERRY OVER THE LAST FEW WEEKS?
"We really haven't talked a whole lot about our racing. We're looking for a sponsor for (my nephew) Justin (Labonte's) ARCA car if anybody's got anything going. That's what we've talked about more than anything else, I can tell you that. Really it's just been general conversation. We really haven't talked about it (the championship) a whole lot. I didn't talk to him after Phoenix until Monday afternoon. He was just excited that we finished fifth and stuff like that. Week in and week out I think he is keeping track of me a little closer now than what he has in the previous 10 races. The past six or seven races he ahs probably kept better track of what we're doing. He didn't sit down and say, 'Alright, this is what you need to do.' He might not know how to explain it because I've read where he has said this before: 'It looks like they're doing everything right now, so I don't need to tell them anything.' It's not that he feels that way. We talk about things, but we don't really talk about, 'Hey, you need to change this or you need to do something different.' If we were doing something wrong I believe he would be the first one to tell us. I know he is a little fly on the wall watching us, making sure that I don't screw up."
IS THE TEAM TRIPLE CHECKING THINGS COMING DOWN THE STRETCH THAT THEY USED
TO DOUBLE CHECK?
"I don't really think it's much different. I guess you always check things 100 percent, but I'd say it's 105 percent now. It's not really that much more, but I know everybody is trying to do the best they can because they don't want to miss anything. It's no different than it was last year being 200 points behind trying to catch up. We didn't leave any stones unturned by not tightening anything up or not making sure everything was right then, so it really hasn't changed a whole lot now, I guess. I hate to say it, but we're still just trying to do the same thing we were trying to do the same thing we did last week and the week before."
IF YOU DON'T CLINCH THE TITLE THIS WEEKEND DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE AN ACE IN
YOUR POCKET KNOWING THAT NEXT WEEK THE SERIES GOES TO ONE OF YOUR BEST
RACETRACKS - ATLANTA?
"Not really. If you want to go back to stats, I think it was two years go we were 42nd or something like that (at Atlanta). We had engine problems. Anything can happen. There is no ace in the hole anywhere I don't' think. I don't gamble much, but when I do gamble, I lose."
HOW HAS JOE GIBBS CHANGED AS THE SEASON HAS GONE ON?
"He stays about the same. I guess the only thing that has changed - I asked him last weekend on the way to hospitality, I said, 'Are you getting nervous yet?' He said, 'Yeah, I'm getting nervous. He was wishing all those times in the Super Bowl that he could be sitting on the sidelines instead of being the one with the pressure on him and stuff like that. It's kind of interesting this year that he is kind of on the sidelines and kind of watching us because he doesn't have his hands in making sure something is tight or steering the car. But I think he is about the same. I don't really talk to him every day, but on a weekly basis when we do talk we still talk about the same things. It's very important that we just keep our heads on straight on just keep going forward."
AFTER BEING SO CLOSE TO A TITLE LAST YEAR, DID YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE
ANOTHER SHOT RIGHT AWAY THIS YEAR?
"People always say, 'Well, you've got to lose one before you can win one,' but I said, 'Yeah, but Juan Montoya didn't. He didn't lose one.' So we throw that out the window. You see guys that are close. I talked about how Dale Jarrett had been close before. Mark Martin has been close before. A lot of guys have been close and hadn't won, so I didn't think it was a guarantee. But I knew momentum and the strength of our race team not changing was on our side and then you've got to throw everything in there that you can to make it work for you."
DID BEING IN A TIGHT BATTLE LAST YEAR HELP YOU THIS YEAR?
"I think it does. I really do. I think last year I learned a lot. It's hard to explain exactly what I learned, but it is something. To be part of it, you learn the little consequences here and there that when you're tenth in points that you just don't get to see. You don't see stuff like that when you're tenth or twelfth in points until you get up in the top five or so. Over the past two or three years it seems like I've learned a lot about the little things about how to race and stuff like that. That has helped out."
HOW MUCH HAS A SECOND TEAM AT GIBBS HELPED?
"Definitely a lot. A two-car team is definitely vital nowadays. A single-car team isn't the way to go to start off anymore to run for a championship, I would say. I know that our teams work really closely together. Tony and I work close together on the racetrack. We always really see a lot of similarities in our race cars. The differences in driving styles, we understand them and we already understand how to make those adjustments on the race cars to the best of our ability. With their experience -- Jimmy (Makar) and Greg (Zipadelli) - and them talking, and Tony and I, I definitely believe that it has propelled our race team forward over the past two years since we started a two-car team."