Note: Despite driving with a broken right scapula, Interstate Batteries driver Bobby Labonte is within two points of NASCAR Winston Cup points leader Jeff Burton. Labonte has reeled off five consecutive top-10 finishes -- four of them top-fives.
Note: Despite driving with a broken right scapula, Interstate Batteries driver Bobby Labonte is within two points of NASCAR Winston Cup points leader Jeff Burton. Labonte has reeled off five consecutive top-10 finishes -- four of them top-fives. Bristol, however, poses a daunting physical test for Labonte. It's a track where he often races well, but also one in which he is collected in crashes.
BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "We made some changes before this morning's practice and I messed it up more than a nything. We'll get it back to where it was when I first went out there. We need to concentrate on getting the car to work well for a long run. Righ t now it's not quite as good as what it needs to be, but hopefully we can tune on it and make it better. We're just digging along. We're taking it one race at a time and trying to be as consistent as possible. We're trying to be the contender that we want to be week in and week out. We're trying to gain that credibility of being the one to watch week in and week out at every track, not just a handful of tracks."
THINKING ABOUT A CHAMPIONSHIP? "No, we're taking it one race at a time. If the points were structured different, we'd do something different. But the way the points are structured you've got to finish every race. The guy that wins doesn't get all the points. They don't give all the points to just the guys that finish in the top-10. It's not like Formula One, every weekend you've got to finish the best you can. You've got to finish in the top-10, if you can , every weekend. Usually the average finish of 8,9,10, in that area, is going to be the guy that wins the championship, or place in the top-three anyway. Every weekend you've got to do that. If you do have three bad races of 30th or worse you better finish in the top three a lot of races to make up for it. It's the same ol' thing year in and year out. You watch those guys finish in the top-three and they run good at every track and finish in the top-five at every track, if not, at least top-10, and they have a couple of races where they have problems and that's their year."
SURPRISED WITH THE JOE GIBBS' TEAMS' SUCCESS CONSIDERING THE FACT YOU MO VED INTO A NEW SHOP AND ADDED A TEAM OVER THE WINTER? "We're awfully excited about that. Through all the worries of everything else going on and there being a lot of unknowns in there, it's been a pleasant surprise. It's quite a relief, too. I've been kind of surprised with the 20 car's success, but when you look at the team and everything that's there, it doesn't surprise me as much that they're running as good as they are. They've got all the tools there. They've got adequate funding, good personnel, good driver, all the elements are there. It's a rookie a driver, but it's not a rookie team. That makes a big difference. You see rookie teams with veteran drivers struggle because he can't carry the load and it takes a full effort. If you have a good, sensible rookie driver with a good race team then that makes everyone look better."
JUST TRYING TO AVOID TROUBLE SUNDAY? "I'm not going to worry about. There's nothing you can do about it. We're going to do everything we can to stay out of it, but we do that all the time and it hasn't worked. You're going to be a victim sometimes and you're not going to be a victim sometimes. You've just got to do the best you can and be consistent and run as fast as you can. You want to be with the front pack of drivers, guys you feels safe around. The track is so narrow and so fast and there's a lot of cars. It's just so hard to stay out of trouble if there is trouble. You've got to do the best you can and up front is usually a better place, but not necessarily the place. It's just usually less congested up front."
WOULD HAVING A BROKEN LEFT SCAPULA BE WORSE HERE WITH ALL THE WEIGHT CONTINUALLY ON YOU? "The last time I broke my shoulder blade it was on my left side and I came here the next week and ran 100 laps. I got out because I didn't want to hurt it any more. As it turned out, it really wasn't hurting. Really, the left side is a whole lot easier unless you're on a road course. I've got a little strap that goes around the shoulder with a little padding back there. That's just so we don't have to put any padding in the seat.
That's working out pretty good. We'll use it again this afternoon and decide whether we want to use it in the race or not. (Friday) I didn't use it for most of practice and I didn't qualify with it. I thought I'd try it today since we'll be in more of a race mode.
JIMMY MAKAR, crew chief (No. 118 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "Bristol always seems to be a tough place for us to come to and come out of with a good finish. We always have a good race car here, but we get caught in circumstances and get torn up. We've got to stop that. We've got to come out of here with a good finish. I don't know what the answer is.
Three-quarters of the time when we get torn up here it's because somebody runs into us or a wreck happens right in front of us or a lapped car gets us or something. Very few times has Bobby done something where you could say it was our fault.
We've got to stop that to start with. We're always competitive here, running fourth of fifth on the race track when these situations occur. We need to do something about that."
HOW DO YOU THINK BOBBY CAN FAIR PHYSICALLY HERE WITH HIS INJURY? "As far as him and how his physical abilities are going, well, Texas is pretty tough because it's very fast and takes a lot of focus. Physically , you're in the corners a long time and with the G forces you run awfully fast there. Making it though that race gave me a lot of confidence that coming in here he would be able to do this. On top of that, he's had two more weeks of rest since Texas, so I really feel like he'll be OK. We've gotten X-rays back from the doctors and he's been going to therapy every day and everything looks really, really good. He hasn't had any complaints in the car in practice so far. I think he'll be OK."
AS A FOOTBALL COACH, JOE GIBBS MUST LOVE HOW BOBBY IS PLAYING HURT. "It's a real morale booster for the guys. When it happened, everyone was disappointed and discouraged. They were wondering what was going to happen. When you see a guy dig deep down and got that extra mile to give to the team, it says a lot about Bobby and his commitment to us. The guys look at that and think, 'If he can do that then I can give a little extra effort.' I think it's good for everybody."
IS THIS TEAM ALREADY THINKING CHAMPIONSHIP OR AT LEAST BEING IN THE HUNT? "It's too early to think about that. The thing we're thinking about every single week is it's a whole new deal. It's the first race of the season every week. We come into these race tracks and try to qualify as well as we can and we've got to race as well as we can every week. If we can run in the top-five, lead races and be competitive week in and week out, then we'll be in that situation at the end of the year. It's way too early to be worried about it or talking about it or anything like that. We need to go try and win some races or at least be competitive."
WITH THE HIGH BANKS HERE, WOULD A SHOULDER INJURY TO BOBBY'S LEFT ARM HAVE MADE IT EVEN MORE DIFFICULT WITH ALL THAT WEIGHT CONTINUALLY ON HIS SHOULDER? "I don't know if there's any good shoulder at all here (laughing). As rough as the race surface is here you bounce around a lot just the way the race track is. Any injury here is going to be a little extra tough on the driver just because of the amount of bouncing the race cars go through here."
WITH THE ADDITION OF A NEW TEAM AND MOVING INTO THE NEW SHOP, ARE YOU SURPISED BOTH TEAMS HAVE MET WITH SO MUCH SUCCESS SO FAR? "I think we've been real fortunate. I really expected a big learning curve at least for the 20 car to get through, to get the guys to start gelling and working together and Tony and Greg (Zipadelli) to be able to communicate to a level where they could be competitive. I've been real surprised at what they've been able to do. I think it's nothing more than the people we've got put together there. They're working real well together, from the crew to the driver and the crew chief. There's no doubt Tony's a good race car driver, but he's seeing these places for the first time, at least in a Cup car. I've been more than pleased with that. The shop has been a lot of work, a lot of extra work for the guys. We put in a lot of extra hours over the winter trying to build a second team, get a fleet of cars up, moving to the new shop, but everybody has toughed it out, put in some extra effort and worked some extra hours and I think that has a lot to do with why we're at the point we're at today."
HAVE THIS TEAM SEEN BENEFITS FROM ALL OF TONY'S TESTNG? "Yeah, there's been a little benefit there. We've been able to see some things that have worked directionally and some things that haven't worked directionally. We've been able to apply some of those thoughts to some things we were going to try when we came back to some of these race tracks. We still go our way some times and they go there way. That's all to tuning the car to the feel of the different driver. They've done a good job of it themselves and we've done a good job with it ourselves. I think it's been a benefit maybe more so with us being able to help them right now. I think that will even out more as the season goes on."
WHAT KIND OF POTENTIAL DOES TONY STEWART HAVE? "He's a very good race car driver. He's got good communication skills and he's been able to come back and tell the guys what the car is doing in a pretty detailed form and a calm enough form where he can walk you through a lap. You can take that information, digest it and make changes to the car because of what he's got to say. His talent on the race track is something everybody can see. When he gets out of the race car that's what I'm impressed with because he's been able to focus on his link between him and the crew and how to get the car right."