This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured Bobby Labonte, driver of the No.18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Monte Carlo along with his nephew, Justin Labonte. The United States Coast Guard has entered into a partnership with...
This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured Bobby Labonte, driver of the No.18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Monte Carlo along with his nephew, Justin Labonte.
The United States Coast Guard has entered into a partnership with Labonte Motorsports and driver Justin for a 15-race schedule in the 2004 NASCAR Busch Series. Justin's father, two-time Nextel Series champion Terry Labonte and his uncle Bobby, winner of the 2000 Nextel championship and 1991 NASCAR Busch Series championship, will participate in the program which is aimed at enhancing the Coast Guard's recruiting and outreach missions.
Justin will be making his debut in the Busch Series at this weekend's race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Bobby is currently 13th in the NEXTEL Cup Series point standings. He will also be competing in the Busch Series race at Texas with Justin.
WHAT'S IT GOING TO BE LIKE RACING IN THE BUSCH SERIES AGAIN?
"We're really excited about it. It's a great opportunity to get back in the Busch Series in a very unique situation driving a car for Richard Childress, which is not like driving for Joe Gibbs Racing or one of my own. Texas is the only planned race for me to be in that car this year. That makes is unique because it's a one-time deal for me (along with) having Justin running his car at the same time. I told Terry he should get a car and run with us. But it didn't quite pan out. But I'm excited. I've never raced against Justin before but I've seen him race and I've been to tests with him and things like that. I'm always looking at his career and trying to help him out as much as I can without really getting in the way, so this is a great opportunity."
WHAT SORT OF TIPS WOULD UNCLE BOBBY PASS ALONG TO JUSTIN ABOUT THE TEXAS TRACK?
"I'll have to be asking him for advice before the weekend is over. I'm not sure I'm holding that open really (laughs). It's a tough race track and it'll bite you in a heartbeat. It's a fast place. He was down there testing the other day and looked really good. His parents can worry about him more than I do because I think he's got the talent and desire to do it. It's just a matter of getting him in the right equipment and having the right breaks."
ON HOW THE NEXTEL CUP SERIES HAS GONE FOR HIM SO FAR THIS YEAR:
"We've been on an odd-and-even weekend type of thing. At Daytona we actually finished the Daytona 500. We usually don't end up finishing. We're usually involved in some type of wreck down there. We made it through that one and finished 11th.
"We made it through Rockingham and struggled and had a flat tire and pitted out of sequence there a couple of times. Our set-up wasn't quite as conducive as it needed to be. We got behind. That was a bad week. At Las Vegas we ended up 8th, which was kind of disappointing but still was a Top 10. At Atlanta, where we thought we'd run good, we struggled and finished 18th. It could have been worse because we ran worse than that. We were just able to muster-up a good finish out of it. And then at Darlington we ran really good and had a chance to win the race until a late caution came out. We were excited about that. At Bristol, we ran pretty good. We definitely weren't a threat but we were getting better. We got involved in an accident on lap 101 and ended our day early. But you've got to keep your chin up and keep going."
WITH JOE GIBBS MOVING BACK TO THE REDSKINS, HAVE THINGS CHANGED AT JGR?
"Things are just going along fine. There are more people talking about it on the outside than on the inside. What we have is a great group of people that have actually taken over the management role over the past several years. Joe's been there and yet he's been gone too. When Cory was racing, he was busy with that. He was busy doing some things on his own for a while. He was letting himself go from the daily racing stuff even though he was still heavily involved. It's just the day-to-day issues weren't quite as important to him. JD and everybody have taken over that and I think they've done a great job. I don't see it missing a beat. We want Joe to be there, but we also want him to do what he wants to do which is to coach the Redskins. He's a phone call away and an hour away by airplane. Honestly, there have been times when I might see him on Sunday morning before the race and then I won't see him until the next Sunday morning. If I went to the shop one day a week, like I usually do, I might not see him then. Hey, it doesn't really change much. I've got his numbers and he's got my numbers. If we need to talk, we can obviously do that."
HOW DOES THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP ALTER YOUR STRATEGY THIS EARLY IN THE YEAR AT ALL?
"It just takes the season and puts it into two. We still have 36 point paying racing but we have 26 racings to get you to where the points are really going to pay off. So you have 26 races to finish in the Top 10, not 36. If your goal is to finish in the Top 10, which obviously it's not (in the end), you do want to finish in the Top 10 so you can race in the Chase. That's your goal. You don't want to burn up all your tests. But if you need to burn them up to get you in the Top 10, there's some strategy there."
DO YOU LOOK AT POINTS EARLIER IN THIS SEASON THAN YOU HAVE IN THE PAST?
"I think that goes without saying because it's a shorter season for us. You want to get a good head start and not be mired back in points. Your point swing today is a bigger swing than it will be. Later, everyone gets more of a solid base and you won't make that swing so much. So it's important to get up there right now and build on that. You can have a six-week stretch around July where if you finish in the top three six races in a row and your 12th in points, you'll probably be in the Top 10 in points when those races are over. But it's good to get a good start on it."
ARE THE DRIVERS DRIVING HARDER AND THE RACING MORE EXCITING LIKE NASCAR HOPED WOULD HAPPEN WHEN THEY CHANGED THE POINTS SYSTEM?
"I think you can only drive so hard. If you drive any harder, you wreck. So you drive as hard as you can. Most everybody does that. If their cars get better they can driver harder, but they can't just driver harder by themselves. Everybody drives pretty hard. I don't think there's a rule of thumb about what makes for exciting races. It just happens. If the caution hadn't come out at Darlington, we were going to be further ahead of Kurt Busch than anybody all year as far as the second place car. But it didn't work out. I didn't plan for it to be an exiting race, but it just went that way. It just happens that way. Sometimes it's weird....almost like they way the stars are lined up or something."
WHEN YOU'RE IN THE RACE, HOW OFTEN DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE ACTUAL NUMBER OF POINTS YOU MIGHT GET?
"Not a whole lot. You want to finish as good as you can because positions just add up to points. So you don't look at points. I want to gain a position because that adds up to points. I don't want to gain points to get a position. You don't think about it. You just think about racing. If you win, you just let the points take care of themselves."
ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS SPONSOR, INTERSTATE BATTERIES:
"It's great to be involved with a sponsor that's been on board for many years. The relationships and friendships that you grow with sponsors over the years are exciting because they become personally related. They call to check on you and check on your kids because they've known them as long as I have. They were there when Tyler and Madison were born. A relationship like that is great. We can call each other at any time and talk about anything. It's like a family atmosphere."
IF A DRIVER CAUSES A CAUTION AND ADMITS IT, SHOULD NASCAR PENALIZE HIM, AND WHAT KIND OF PENALTY WOULD GET YOUR ATTENTION?
"I'm sure that causing a caution - like we've had people throw out roll bar padding before trying to get a caution - I don't know what the deal is with that or what the penalty was. I was walking out of the tunnel (Bristol) Sunday when I heard it (Dale Jr. spin/caution incident) and I kind of had to laugh because I thought I'd never admit that. But that's too late. I don't know what the penalty should be or could be, but it definitely needs to be where it doesn't matter who you are. I was leading a race a couple of years ago when Ricky Craven stopped on the race track between (Turns) 1 and 2 at Martinsville. He had some tire thing and kind of wrecked up there anyway. He didn't have to stop, but he stopped in the corner and caused a caution. I don't know whether I ended up winning or losing, but it was won of those deals where it was a deliberate deal. That kind of ticks you off as a competitor when it doesn't go in your favor. Having said that, there probably should be something done."
WHEN SOMEONE TRIES TO TAKE THE RACE INTO HIS OWN HANDS WITH AN ARTIFICAL CAUTION, ARE THERE BIGGER SAFETY CONCERNS?
"On a restart, if you listen to the announcers, cautions breed cautions. If you believe that, then obviously having a caution that wasn't really necessary breeds another caution. Sometimes there's debris on the race track that you can never find. You hate to see them sometimes. At a place like Bristol, they do sometimes breed more cautions. At other tracks it's not necessarily the case. You don't want to see it happen if it doesn't have to happen. Let's put it that way."
JAMIE MCMURRAY RECEIVED A $10,000 FINE AND FOUR MONTHS PROBATION FOR HITTING MATT KENSETH AFTER THE CHECKERED. IS THERE ANY PLACE IN THE SPORT FOR RETALIATION?
"No, not really. You can go open the trailer and talk about it afterwards. That's what ends up happening anyway. Why do it on the race track? Go to the trailer in front of counsel. Debate and talk. If he'd have done that, he'd be $10,000 richer and not on probation, I suppose. You understand that you get mad. NASCAR doesn't want you to do that."
ARE THERE MORE INCIDENTS OF PEOPLE GETTING BUMPED FROM BEHIND?
"You might have a couple of races where it happens and then you might not see it again for 20 races. You never know. You don't make that happen. It just happens that way. It just depends on two guys on the race track being at the same place at the same time. They might have done that before and they'll do it again. I don't see that as being any different than in the past."
ON RETURNING TO HIS HOMETOWN TRACK IN TEXAS
"It's always a great feeling going back to Texas because we can usually get more cheers than other cats do. So that's always a lot of fun. If you were to start at the race track and drive to Corpus Christi, it's seven or eight hours. In perspective, it's like going from Highpoint to Talladega. That's a long ways but Texas is a big state. At the same time it is cool to go back. We have huge hospitalities there and a lot of fans that crave racing. It's cool to be there. We are from Texas and we'll always be from there."
ON THE EVOLUTION OF TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
"It's a good place to race. I think there are things that could make it better. But you can probably say that about 90 percent of the tracks. And that's just one person's opinion. They can't do much about weather or their drainage or surface issues. It's kind of like Atlanta when it was repaved. When the weather seasons the race track, it gets better by itself. The only other track that was different was Homestead. The whole program at Texas is obviously a big undertaking to build a track of that size. No matter if they started over tomorrow, you'd still run into things that would crop up and would happen. You learn by your experiences and go on and make it better. I think they've done the best job they can by making it great for the fans and competitors. It's a fast, fast track. We all know it doesn't take fast tracks to make for good racing, but we've also seen fast race tracks that make for great racing. It just happens that way. We definitely love to go there. It's one of the neatest tracks we go to."