BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: COMING OFF A SECOND PLACE FINISH LAST WEEKEND, CAN YOU CARRY THAT MOMENTUM TO MARTINSVILLE? "Yeah, sure we do. We did have a good run at Lowe's Motor Speedway. We thought we could...
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
COMING OFF A SECOND PLACE FINISH LAST WEEKEND, CAN YOU CARRY THAT MOMENTUM TO MARTINSVILLE?
"Yeah, sure we do. We did have a good run at Lowe's Motor Speedway. We thought we could catch Jamie [McMurray] and tried some different things to get around him, but just weren't able to. His car was pretty equal to mine, and him being out in front of me, I just couldn't quite make the pass. But, going to Martinsville this weekend --- I'm really excited about it because of what happened there last spring, and obviously the run from Sunday makes our spirits and everything a lot happier this week to go to Martinsville this weekend."
ON THE WINSTON CUP SEASON OVERALL
"It really has been kind of strange. I heard this morning on the radio, just thinking about the points, the way this year has gone and just the points system, in general - I guess Bob Latford (architect of the current points system) has taken some heat over the past few years because guys might clinch the championship two or three races from the end. Well, it hasn't changed any, but yet this year is totally different. That kind of goes back to people saying, 'Well, that's a good race or that's a bad race.' We don't make them good; we don't make them bad. We don't make the points race exciting; we don't make it boring. It just happens that way, and this year is no different. I think it just happens that way. It could have easily gone differently. Two years ago it did; two years from now it might again. But, those things you just can't predict and whatever happens happens. But, fortunately for a lot of people, it gives them a little bit more of a chance to win a championship towards the end of the season, instead of their year being gone halfway through the year."
AS A FORMER WINSTON CUP CHAMPION, HAVE YOU TALKED TO YOUR TEAMMATE, TONY STEWART, ABOUT HIM POSSIBLY WINNING THE CROWN THIS YEAR?
"Not much. Tony's won championships in other divisions before. He's been racing since he was probably breathing, so I think it is a deal where he is definitely capable and able to do this. With everybody there - with Greg [Zipadelli] and the whole Home Depot team - they have what it takes to win. It's just a matter of if they can finish every race in front of those guys that are behind them, they'll definitely be poised to win a championship. They've seen us do it in 2000 - close in '99 - and they've been close every year, so there is probably not much I could tell. There is not much they don't already know."
WHAT HAS BEEN THE KEY TO YOUR RECENT SUCCESS AT MARTINSVILLE?
"It's a deal where we feel like we've close there a few times, but we might have missed out on a couple things. There have been a few things that the '20' car has done to help them out, we've done. A few things that have helped my driving style out more and more have helped out. I can't really put my finger on one thing. It's just been a lot of little things. The '20' car has helped out. Our own testing that we have done has helped out. It's just been a lot of little things."
HOW MUCH ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT YEAR AND IS THE REST OF THE YEAR JUST A TEST SESSION?
"It's not really a test session. Obviously, what we want to do is finish the year out as strong as we can. We want to look forward to next year. If we do anything different from now on out, it's not that we're testing. It's the fact that maybe we should have been doing it before now. It might look like it, but it really isn't.
"We're not going to sit out there and say, 'We're going to go test things the rest of the year because it is a washout,' because every points position pays more money, so it's good for the whole team if we can finish 15th in points over 18th in points. We may be trying things different, but it's not that we wouldn't anyway."
WILL NEXT YEAR'S CAR CONSTRUCTION MAKE AERO-PUSH LESS OF A FACTOR?
"I don't think that will make it less of a factor next year. I can't really say it will make it any more of a factor, but I don't think it will make it any less of factor. Sunday night we were close. I can't say an aero-push is what hurt us, but I think if we had been in front maybe he wouldn't have gotten by us. I couldn't get my car as balanced as good as it probably should have been as it was earlier in the race. It doesn't take but just a little bit anymore to be off and that's what we were off compared to the '40' car. I can't say it was all aero-push because there it is a little bit different that it is at Kansas or Chicago or Las Vegas or other places that are a lot flatter."
IS IT GETTING EASIER FOR YOUNG DRIVERS TO WIN?
"I shouldn't say it's getting easier to win. But, given the right place and the right time, everything lined up right and the position of the race team - obviously, we all knew that the '40' car is a championship-caliber race team and they've proved themselves all year long for almost two years now week-in and week-out, being right there where they need to be. Putting Jamie in the car being he's a rookie - well, he's a rookie, but he's not really a rookie. He's been racing for a long time and he's got experience under his belt, and yeah, Charlotte is not his best track, but yet he does know how to get around the racetrack. Then, you throw in the fact that the team basically is a strong team. It helps your learning curve out. It helps a rookie out. But really, those guys that are coming into the sport now, we all call them rookies, but in a roundabout way they're really not. They're good smart racers. Everybody's learning curve over the past five years in racing, no matter what car they're in, has always gotten sharper than it was five years before that. It will keep on going, I'm sure."
HAVE YOU HAD TO CHANGE YOUR DRIVING STYLE TO BE MORE AGGRESSIVE ON A SHORT TRACK?
"I don't think I've change a whole lot from anything different than I was years ago. It's just a matter of sometimes we have better cars than at other times at that racetrack. This last time at Martinsville we were the best we'd ever been there and we were able to get out front when Tony pitted and stay there. We didn't have to pass guys. Obviously, going down the end of a race, going for the lead, you're going to race as hard as you can and as clean as you can and see where you end up."
HOW DOES JOE GIBBS' EXPERIENCE COME INTO PLAY AT THIS TIME OF YEAR WITH REGARD TO A RUN FOR A WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP?
"Obviously, he's got a lot of experience in the fact that he has done this for a long time. I know that people are basically what it's about and he's able to bring to the table the fact that, not only now has experienced it in football, but now Winston Cup. It's always changing. People are always changing. The next day is always a new battle. You can't just say, 'Well, history repeats itself every time.' He's just a great advisor and a great coach when it comes down to trying to balance everything out and trying to put everything in the right order to accomplish your goal."
IS HE STILL NOT ALLOWED TO TALK ON THE RADIO ON SUNDAY?
"No, we don't let him do that. But, he's always there. Obviously, that is the big thing is that he's there. He doesn't call the pits, but he puts people in the right position to do that."
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR BEST AND WORST MOMENTS THIS SEASON?
"The best I would have to say would be Martinsville, obviously. I can't compare another race to that one this year, as far as anything being better than that.
"Somebody else could probably remind me of worst moments. We've had enough of them this year, they've kind of jumbled up. But, I know one thing is that we just haven't had the year we wanted to have. I almost consider the whole year being - it stinks because we just haven't been able to capitalize on anything. It seems like every time we got a chance to do something we just never really made it work. But, I can say that the first three restrictor plate races we got it a wreck and finally the last one we didn't. Two years ago we couldn't get in a wreck. We never got in a wreck. We never tore a car up in two years of restrictor plate racing and in the past year and a half we've tore up everything. A lot of times of times there is nothing you can do about it, but sit there and hope it doesn't happen. Unfortunately, we've been at the wrong place at the wrong time and it has happened, so that has been pretty frustrating. But, there is nothing you can do about it, really."
WHAT MAKE'S MARK MARTIN THE DRIVER HE IS?
"He is probably one of the most determined guys I've ever seen behind the wheel of a race car. He works very hard at getting his cars to go as fast as they can. He'll drive the wheels off it lap-after-lap. There is no resting for him. He's not going to take it too easy. He's going to run as fast as he can.
"As far as Mark Martin as a person, he is very driven as far as wanting to win races and obviously, he wants to win a championship real bad. When he is in the right equipment and things don't happen, he is going to be up front. He's proven that year-in and year-out."