Bobby Labonte NASCAR weekly teleconference

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference Transcript March 15, 2005 This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Teleconference featured Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Labonte leads all active drivers in the NASCAR NEXTEL...

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference Transcript
March 15, 2005

This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Teleconference featured Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Labonte leads all active drivers in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series for the most number of wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a total of six. He's tied in third with Richard Petty in the all-time Atlanta victory list.

Heading into Atlanta, Labonte will also be piloting the Morgan-Dollar Motorsports No. 47 Chevy All Star Silverado in Friday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. This will be his fourth career Truck Series start.

BOBBY LABONTE:

(WITH YOUR TOUGH START TO THE SEASON, BUT GIVEN YOUR HISTORY AT ATLANTA, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS WEEKEND'S RACE?) "It's definitely more comforting there than other places I was good, too. But really, it's been a weird start to the season. I'm looking forward to the next race to hopefully rebound from what we've been through so far. Whether it's Atlanta or not, it still just makes it that much better."

(WHAT HAS KEPT YOU AND GIBBS RACING TOGETHER FOR SO LONG?) "I guess our relationship is more like family than anything else. We're there for each other in the tough times and the good times. The atmosphere there is very comfortable for me. Mark Martin probably has the same situation with Jack Roush as far as the owner goes. That's the same feeling I have with Joe and JD and everybody there."

(WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE IMPORTANCE OF POINTS, IS IT TOUGH TO MAINTAIN PATIENCE?) "What you have to do is go out there and be cautiously aggressive at every race. We thought we'd be doing that the whole time. We don't want to get too crazy on anything, but at the same time I think you just know in the back of your mind that every weekend you want to win the race. You don't want to do anything stupid to jeopardize yourself from winning the race, but you don't want to finish 35th. You want to finish second if you can't win it. We have to keep that in mind. Luckily for us, we're going on race four, not race 24. So we can look at it right now without looking into the future. We've got a lot of races to go yet before race 26. So that's a positive note. Everybody on the race team has been upbeat about it even though we've just had terrible problems happen to us. We feel like we're going to be competitive."

(ARE THEY UPBEAT BECAUSE THE NEXT RACE IS ATLANTA, OR BECAUSE THEY THINK THEY'VE GOT EVRYTHING FIGURED OUT?) "I hope it's because the next race is the next race -- not because it's Atlanta. If there is one thing that I've been branded with is that you know you're going to run good because it's Atlanta. I'm glad I run good there. But we've run good everywhere before. It's just that we've run better in Atlanta. So, let's just say we go to Atlanta and we can run good there because we've won, but we can go to Bristol or Martinsville or wherever we want to go and run good there too."

(NASCAR JUST RELEASED THEIR FINES FROM THE LAS VEGAS RACE. DO YOU THINK WE'LL EVER SEE NASCAR TAKING AWAY WINS? HOW FAR DO THE TEAMS HAVE TO PUSH THE ENVELOPE?) "Not knowing any more details about what the No. 48 car did. I know what the No. 29 car did. But it's getting to the point where NASCAR doesn't want to see people cheating. They want it to be fair for everybody, which I think is great. Is the suspension right? Yes and no. If suspension is two weeks off at home, maybe it's community service work. Or maybe they should clean up the race track after the race or maybe it should be something that you don't want to do. Maybe they want to be home anyway. I don't know what happened there. But by NASCAR taking points away and fining them and giving them suspensions, it keeps escalating. It's going to get to a point where everybody says this is way too much. Is it too much right now? No, but its taking steps to get the people's attention I guess. That's probably the right approach. I can't really think of anything other than community service work to do."

(IS THERE ANY WAY TO SUMMERIZE YOUR LAST 39 RACES SINCE YOU WON AT HOMESTEAD THE END OF '03?) "Yeah, it's frustrating. If I didn't worry about stuff or if I wasn't competitive, it wouldn't be that big a deal. But it burns me up on the inside. I know we've got a great race team and we can make it all happen. But it's been frustrating. Our group is going to get better. We have to get better. If we don't, we'll be doing something else. We have to get better and we will. I can't do it without them and they can't do it without me I hope. I'd rather have them on my side that trying to do it against them. But hey, they can talk all they want about character building, but we've been there and we want to get over the character building part and jut get back to running good and winning races. When you do that, it sure does seem like it's a whole lot easier than when you're not."

(BY CURRENTLY BEING 37TH IN THE POINTS, AFTER TWO MORE RACES YOU MIGHT BE IN THE POSITION OF HAVING TO QUALIFY ON SPEED AT RACE NO. 6. IS THAT A CONCERN?) "Well, if they haven't changed the rules, I think I still have a championship."

(OH, FORGET THE QUESTION. WELL, WHAT ABOUT SOME OTHER DRIVERS THAT WILL BE IN THAT POSITION?) "I've looked at it the past couple of weeks and there about 8 guys that have got to qualify in on speed. The way I look at it is like driving the (Craftsman) truck this weekend. We've got to get in on speed. We can't rely on points. And, so if you qualify first, it really doesn't matter does it? So, let's work for that and not worry about. So I hope in three weeks we'll be qualifying in the top 10 or somewhere that it won't matter. That's our goal. We'll look at the points or the starting positions after we qualify. But right now, if you go out there with the ambition to qualify -- if you have a good enough car and you practice good enough -- that's your goal. We don't want to stay where we are. We have to get out of this hole. To do that, we're going to have to qualify up front, and run up front, and finish up front."

(WHAT'S THE KEY TO HAVING SUCCESS ON MULTI-CAR TEAMS?) "There is more than one key. A lot of it depends on the number. If you have three, or five or six teams, the income you have is enormous. That lets you buy more stuff and get more technology and go overseas and get more data and information and drivers and input and more tests. More tests mean more results. More good results mean better results. You can have bad results and not end up any better. Whether it's good or bad, I really don't know. But if you sit in the driver's meeting and look out to the teams, if you've got five drivers and crew chiefs on one team, you've got 10 people. And then maybe you've got another group of four teams. So at the end of the day, if there are six car owners for the whole series, is that as good as having 25 car owners for the series? I don't know the answer to that. But I would just assume that you'd want to have more than less."

(WHAT IS ROBBY GORDON GOING UP AGAINST AS A SINGLE CAR TEAM?) "It's tough for him. He's doing a great job. He just doesn't have the finances and resources to do it. What NASCAR has done is created templates that are all pretty equal. They've created so many rules that it's pretty basic. You can't get too far out of shape. But at the same time, the one million pieces that it takes to put a car together -- the twisting, the chassis, the motor, the this and that -- makes up just as much difference between a good car and a bad car, or a good team and a bad team, that it did say 10 years ago with fewer rules and a guy could be way over here or way over there. If you've got a Roush with five cars, Gibbs with three, Hendrick with four or five, and Evernham with two or three, and you're right behind them, you're behind 18 cars all of a sudden if they have the technology to beat you. They all share it."

(DO YOU EXPECT NASCAR TO PROMOTE THESE START UP TEAMS, OR IS IT JUST TOO FAR DOWN THE ROAD AT THIS POINT?) "It's just probably too far down the road. It might be. It's just harder. Everything just costs more. They're going everything they can so that it doesn't cost as much, but the teams are smart enough that they pick one item for example and pick up a little bit of an advantage and they take off and are light years ahead of you. It just takes so much to get that little bit anymore."

(DO YOU THINK ATLANTA WILL BE AN EVEN BIGGER HANDFUL WITH THE NEW RULES?) "We had a test there and it didn't seem as bad as I anticipated. At Vegas, the tires fell off quite a bit. At Atlanta, they always fall off but they didn't fall off any more than they did last year. Again, we didn't run in traffic. We ran by ourselves. But I struggled there the last two races, so I kind of feel better than I did then for those two. I'm kind of looking forward to getting down there and starting off because we still have a lot of grooves there to work with. At Vegas, I watched from the top of the truck after we fell out and it even got better than I anticipated. So I don't think it's going to be as bad as I thought it might be if we hadn't gone to test. I feel pretty good about it. I think with the short spoiler, cars are going to get loose in traffic. But as far as everything else goes, I think we'll be okay."

(WHY ARE YOU SO GOOD THERE?) "It's just a freak situation that I've won six races there and haven't won six at Martinsville. I don't know. I like that race track. I enjoy going back. The cars we've won there with were dominant and mediocre that we've made better. So we've kind of won from different angles. It's just a place that I run good and I can't explain why."

(HOW DO YOU APPROACH A FAST TRACK LIKE ATLANTA?) "You have to respect it as fast as you are going there. You're in the throttle so much. You have to be smart about it. You don't want to go in there and just run wide open for 30 laps and see what happens. That wouldn't be the smart thing to do. You've just got to go with what's underneath you and your ability with the car that day."

(WHEN YOU'RE NOT RUNNING WELL, DO YOU SEE YOUR CREW ALSO FRUSTRATED?) "I don't really see that right now. Daytona was frustrating. I was personally frustrated because I was looking forward to that day more so than I had looked forward to Daytona in the past because we were doing pretty good in the practices. We got shuffled out in the last three laps of the Shootout. I thought we were going to be good. This past weekend was devastating. Does that mean the crew is down? No. I talked to every one of them before we packed it up and I just thought they're going to remember this year for the comeback that we're going to have. That helped those guys back up. I'm not saying that's all it takes, but we've got a great pit crew. If we could just have finished two of the races we didn't finish, it would be a totally different outlook. It's frustrating. But I think the guys know it's not something awful. It is something we can't control. We have to keep going. They're strong enough to understand that. We're all doing the right thing. Luckily, it's just early in the season and we just have to work hard to keep going."

(DOES BEING TOGETHER AS A TEAM FOR SO LONG HELP TO KEEP EVERYBODY CALM?) "It does. It's a team sport. We all want to be on top all the time because it's a whole lot more fun. We can all get frustrated, but when it comes down to game time, we have to get going. I'm not at the shop today and I'm a lot quieter today than if I have finished 5th last weekend. I'm a bit down in the dumps myself. But at the same time, when I get to that race track Friday morning, I have to wear the right game face. I can't be down in the dumps."

(WITH THE NEW SURFACE GRINDING AT LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY, HOW DO YOU THINK IT WILL AFFECT THE RACING IN GENERAL THERE?) "I don't know. I had my go-kart down there the other day in the infield, and I saw that it was ground. I talked to Humpy on Friday and I didn't ask him about it. But it had gotten pretty rough obviously, and it just depends on what kind of grooving it does. Does it tear the tires up? Is it just smoother? If it's faster, does that make for better racing? Not necessarily. Without getting on the race track, I'm not sure. But I would hope and think that what he did will help smooth it out and not necessarily make the tires wear or the groove be just above the places that were the hardest hit. It didn't go out there and look at it because there were some Petty Driving schools out there so I didn't get to go. Hopefully it makes the competition better and the racing better. But it's pretty hard to beat because Charlotte is usually a pretty good race anyway."

(WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR HIGH POINTS AND LOW POINTS OVER THE YEARS?) "The high point would be winning the championship, I guess. I don't want to say I'm at a low point right now because we all know that deep down inside; somebody is at a lower point than I am. I don't dare say that this is a low point for me because it could always get worse. But I guess I could say right now that it stinks more than the other times. But I've had races at Pocono when I left there I was so frustrated. But then it's a short period of time. Right now is bad, but it could be worse."

(IN WORKING WITH THE GIBBS ORGANIZATION, DO YOU NOTICE ANY DIFFERENCES WORKING FOR SOMEBODY WHO IS A COACH INSTEAD OF SOMEBODY WHO IS A CAR OWNER?) "Yeah, I think the best part is everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. On days like today when we're not running good, I'd probably speak up more and show frustration more than when you're running good. But going back to the Gibbs family, Joe was a coach and now is a coach again, his philosophy is so important to me because he has so much experience doing a lot of things in a teamwork environment. That has made me a better person. No different than most families, you're going to argue at some time. But at the end of the day we're going to walk away and give each other a hug and know we're in it together. But his respect for people and the team environment is that no matter what we go through, we give each other 110 percent. He looks at things beyond dollars and cents. That's what he brings to it."

(WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR RUNNING IN THE TRUCK RACE THIS WEEKEND?) "I'm looking forward to it. We tested down there the other day. I thought we were pretty good. It was hard to tell. There were only a couple of other trucks there. I was able to drive the Morgan-Dollar team truck there last year at Homestead and Martinsville. They did a great job and had a lot of fun and were competitive in both races and finished 3rd at Martinsville and were running 2nd at Homestead when we spun out and then the engine blew up. I'm looking forward to getting back in that truck and running good at Atlanta."

(HOW DIFFERENT DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE RUNNING UNDER THE LIGHTS?) "It'll be dark in places (laughs). I don't know. One night that they ran there when it rained a few years ago, we fell out at lap 20, so we didn't get to run at night. But we did test there late at night. The lights brightened the track up. For the fans, it's going to be great. I know we can have too much of it, but at certain times in certain series, obviously it's a good situation. I think Friday night is going to be exciting."

(CAN YOU LEARN ANYTHING FROM THE TRACK RACE TO TAKE OVER TO THE CUP RACE?) "You know, the trucks are so different. All the series are different. They need to be. You have to be able to adapt. But I think you just learn the race track and in the tire and in the feel of stuff. The aero package is so much different -- as are the chassis and the shocks. For me, I think you learn more about the race track than anything else."

(ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH DENNIS SETZER) "Dennis is a neat individual. He's a great guy. We used to race against each other at Caraway. We're a lot alike in a lot of ways I think. We tested those two trucks at Caraway. His didn't drive as good. Mine drove good. His was faster; mine was slower. But we got in each other's and ran the same speeds. I told him to take the better truck. If people saw us here today, they'd probably think we were crazy because people used to think we hated each other, which we didn't. We were just competitors. I don't think we've ever laid a finger on each other. But we'd always kid with each other. I think the world of Dennis. I hope he can go out there and win a bunch of races and the championship this year."

(HOW MUCH ARE YOU INVOLVED IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF YOUR NEPHEW, JUSTIN LABONTE?) "I don't know how to answer that. I just try to help out when I can. I'm probably not the best teacher in the world, I guess. But he needs to ask me something, I tell him. But I don't tell him how to handle things. I think he can figure things out on his own. But I always keep my eye on him. I'm not going to tell him what springs to put in the car because he's driving it, not me. But at the same time, I might tell him how the groove is in the middle of the race track. We have go-karts and we get to race against each other so we get to practice that way."

(ON THE FAMILY ATMOSPHERE AT JOE GIBBS, HOW DOES HE HELP YOU KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE WHEN TIMES ARE TOUGH?) "Well, I honestly haven't talked to him since Daytona, but I'm expecting a call any moment (laughs). I don't know where he is, but I know he's busy. We can definitely relate on our careers. This past season they struggled. JD and I talked yesterday and we'll talk some more tomorrow. I'll get home and there will be a note addressed to my wife from Joe Gibbs. Little things like that go a long way. I just know that when it comes to a person that you respect, what I'm doing today and who I'm closest to, he's a guy I respect."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Richard Petty , Jack Roush , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing