Car 41 gets new driver. other news from Texas

TERRY LABONTE (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Labonte, a 43-year-old Corpus Christi, Texas, native, will return to the Lone Star State as the DIRECTV 500 defending champion. Labonte has recorded top 10 finishes in each of the ...

TERRY LABONTE (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet Monte Carlo)

NOTE: Labonte, a 43-year-old Corpus Christi, Texas, native, will return to the Lone Star State as the DIRECTV 500 defending champion. Labonte has recorded top 10 finishes in each of the three previous NASCAR Winston Cup races at Texas Motor Speedway and is coming off his best finish of the season. Labonte and crew chief Gary DeHart teamed up to finish fifth in last week's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Labonte jumped three spots in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings and ranks ninth after the first six races. He trails his brother, Bobby Labonte, who is leading the standings by 213 points. Terry Labonte hasn't missed a race since becoming a full-time competitor in 1979 and is scheduled to make his 643rd consecutive start on Sunday.

"That was a big win for us last year out there in Texas. It was a good feeling, and it was the biggest race I'd ever won. To win down there with so many fans and friends and relatives in that big crowd, it meant a little bit extra. We felt like we were in pretty good shape when it came down to the last pit stop. Dale Jarrett pitted a little bit early and gained some ground on me with the new tires. When we pitted, we came out behind him and there wasn't many laps left. I guess I passed him with less than 10 to go. I thought to myself that I had to get by him somehow. To have a car as good as we did all day and not win would be pretty disappointing. We were able to get by him on the outside. When I passed him, I saw everybody in the stands stand up. Most of the time when you're racing, you don't notice the people in the stands. I noticed them there. The whole place was standing up cheering. It was pretty exciting.

"We have a good following down there in Texas, both Bobby and I. Bobby finished third. It was a good day for both of us, very exciting. We put as much effort into everything and try to run as good as we can every weekend. We went there and tested when the track was new, and we tested last year. We put a lot of effort into it, and we've had some good runs down there. Every time we've been there we've run well. It's a good place to run well at. They've made some great improvements, and it's a good track. That facility is just outstanding with all the things they've done outside the race track. It's pretty special to go down there and run good.

"I've run three races down there, and I'm the only guy to finish in the top 10 in all three. We qualified good there twice. One time we didn't because I spun out and wrecked the car. It's a pretty good track for us. I feel like we're getting better every week. I think we're getting closer. It's a big job coming in trying to reorganize this thing, but Gary is doing a good job. We're getting closer all the time.

"The car has to handle good. That's the key down there. It looks similar, but it's real different from Charlotte or Atlanta. I think we'll have another good run.

"I go down early and check on everything, make sure my house is still down there. It's about 100 miles west of Corpus Christi and 100 miles south of San Antonio. I'll spend a couple of days there and then go to Dallas on Wednesday morning.

"Our cars are getting better. I think the rule change really helped us. We had too much downforce on the back and not enough on the front. It's important to have a car balanced, especially at a track as fast as Texas."

GARY DEHART (Crew chief No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet Monte Carlo)

"Some drivers have certain tracks they like and tracks where they get around well. Texas is one of those tracks for Terry. I don't know why. If a driver likes a track, part of your battle is won for you already. We took a brand new car for the test. It was like a speedway-downforce car. We also took a high downforce car, and he liked the downforce car a lot better, and we ran better with it. It's a two-year-old car with a new body. Our test went good. The track is kind of bleached out a little bit. The year before they paved it, and it was really black. When we got there for the test, it was kind of bleached out. Not too many cars have run on it. The school cars have run on it a little bit, but they haven't run on it enough to put any black down. By the end of the second day of the test before it rained on us, there was a black groove starting to come back on the track. It didn't change a whole lot. It seemed to stay pretty good. We didn't really get to practice in qualifying mode. The rain got there before we got finished. We were going to save the qualifying stuff until the last day, but it rained us out. We got a pretty good test in on Monday (March 20) and Tuesday (March 21) morning.

"We're working hard. We're not fixed 100 percent, but we're working to get it fixed. It's not like it was ever broken, but to keep up with the time you've got to work extra hard. When you get into a situation like we're in right now with body changes and rule changes going on, it's kind of hard for us. We work hard every week, and I think we're getting better every week.

"We've got to start finishing in the top 10 before you can start finishing in the top five. We've done it before. We've started out a little bit slow and got stronger as the year goes on. Everybody knows Terry's better part of the year is the second half of the season. He's always been that way. As the team gets stronger, the confidence level comes up. It takes maybe the first part of the year to get to where maybe the confidence level starts to come up.

"I told Rick Hendrick when I left that I'd never work for another Winston Cup team full-time. Then when I took on a consulting job for the 4 team, it really worked good for me. It kept me going. It kept me learning. Larry McClure really took care of me. I'm really fond of that 4 car team, but I told Rick I'd never go to work and actually go in a place and say 'OK, I'm here 100 percent.' It's kind of one of those things that happened. Me and Rick talked about it for a long time, longer than people really know. We always talked on the phone every week or two, even when Rick was sick. I went to visit him and stuff like that. Rick is a real good friend of mine, even if we didn't race.

"It's a communication thing between me and Terry that's hard to beat in the sport. Everybody doesn't have it. I'm older than he is, but I grew up with him. In 1980, I did a lot of work for him. I had my own shop in High Point, N.C., and then Hagan Enterprises was just right down the road. I did a lot of work for them because I don't think they had the equipment I had at that time. When Dale Inman went over there in '82, that's when I started working for them full time. I sold my business and went over there. Terry has always been a good friend. I don't get mystified by them. A driver is a driver, but you respect their ability to do what they do. Terry asks me what I would do. Sometimes I look at him and tell him I can't drive it. I don't really know."

"I guess the last couple of years working with (former crew chief) Andy Graves, they had a different communication. It's taken me a little while to figure that out. It's just growing pains. It's nothing major. We communicate well together.

"I'd like to get back in the top five in the point standings again. We took a big step at Bristol and got back into the top 10. I knew we could do that. We had a couple of bad races, but I think we can get back up there and do something. A win this early in the season would make all the difference in the world, and a win on Sunday at Texas is what we really want right now."

GEOFFREY BODINE (No. 60 Power Team Chevrolet Monte Carlo)

NOTE: Here are highlights of Tuesday's NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.

"I'm feeling really great. I'm getting ready to go work out. I've been doing that a week and a half now. I feel a lot better than I've felt in the last few weeks. It's amazing how my recovery has gone. When I came home I was very tired all the time, of course I was on a lot of medication for pain. They kept me in bed on my back. I've been getting out more the last two weeks, and this last week I've started feeling very good. People say I look good and sound good, and I'm looking forward to seeing everybody this weekend at Texas. It'll be my first outing to a race track since the accident. We're anxious to see everyone and get back to the track.

"The most painful thing with the accident, I have a broken wrist. I had four pins in that, and I had them taken out last week. I still have a cast on my right wrist, but that will come off next week. I had one pin infected, so that was a little painful. I'm glad we have them out now. My back injury is not painful, thank goodness. It's more frustrated having to wear this back brace, chest thing that goes around. It's very uncomfortable. I have to use it when I work out and all day long. The biggest pain I've had is every joint, every muscle, every inch of my body is hurt tremendously. My body was just flying around inside that vehicle. That's been the most uncomfortable thing I've had to deal with. I've been on so much pain medication and weeks of recovery. We've tapered way off of that. Actually, we're pretty much off of it right now. I'm taking natural herbs. Rick Carelli called me and got me on this. He said with his injuries he went on herb medication and he thought it really helped him recover faster. We called up the company and told them what was wrong and what we needed. They sent it to us. They really have been helping me tremendously the last four or five days.

"I'm sure many people are wondering if I'm going to be able to do it. Will I get behind the steering wheel and have that same nerve and not think about the accident and what could have happened. I've thought a lot about that. The very first day in the hospital when I was conscious, I was saying 'when am I going to get back guys?' I was on a lot of medication, and I felt great. I didn't hurt very much. I found out I was hurt. I saw the videos of the wreck. That didn't really bother me. When that wreck started, I thought it was going to be a normal little wreck into the wall, no big event. When I hit the wall, it knocked me unconscious. Right up until that point, I still thought it was going to be a normal type thing. I didn't think I was going to get hurt or come so close to death like I did. I didn't think it was going to be so traumatic. I don't have that kind of memory of the accident.

"Watching the video, I still feel that way. The first time I saw it, I said, 'wow, that was a bad wreck.' But I didn't realize it at the time. I didn't have the eerie feelings about the accident. I have the remains of the truck up here in Charlotte in my shop. I've seen it several times the last few weeks, but every time I went to see it, I was still under medication. The first two or three times I saw the truck I looked at it, amazed that I survived. It truly was a miracle I did survive it. I'd come home, and I didn't have any problem with it.

"I went to see it last week and I'm off the medication. On the way home it finally did bother me how close I did come to death and how fortunate I was that I'm still here and I didn't lose the opportunity of my life to be with my kids and grandkids and brothers and sisters and my mother. It finally did bother me, but it isn't affecting my outlook on getting back to driving. I still have that burning desire to get back behind the steering wheel and compete. It might even be stronger now than it was. I love a challenge, and this has been one of the biggest challenges of my life to deal with this accident and injuries and to overcome all that and to get back in behind the steering wheel and start driving again. With the desire I have, I'm very anxious to get back behind the steering wheel. I don't expect any problems because I don't have that bad feeling about the accident.

"I've been asked this before, and I tell people about the wreck I had at Watkins Glen before they had the inner loop in the back straightaway. We'd go into that corner 170 mph and I did that and hit the brakes and the brakes blew up. I knew I wasn't going to make it around the corner. I really thought there was a tree I was going to hit. I knew I wasn't going to make the corner, and I knew if I hit that tree that I was going to kill myself. I really thought that day I was going to kill myself. I had a few seconds to think about that, and a lot of things went through my mind thinking I was going to kill myself. I got hurt, but I survived. The following week we had to go to Michigan, a very fast track. We had very good cars back in those days, the Levi Garrett days. I went to Michigan, and I remember like it was yesterday. I remember climbing in the car on pit road and getting ready to go out to qualify. I had to tell myself that day that depending on what you do today is going to tell yourself if you have it or if you still have your nerve or if you're going to be able to continue driving. Just after coming off this serious wreck at Watkins Glen, and I went out and got the pole at Michigan. I proved to myself and everyone else that day at Michigan that I still had the nerve and even going through a bad accident like that didn't slow me down or take anything away from me. I really feel that even though this accident was more severe, I never had that feeling I was going to get hurt or killed. I can see it and see how close I came, but I don't have that picture in my mind. When I get behind the wheel of a car the first time, it should be Richmond for a test. I really don't believe I'm going to have any problems going out there and standing on the gas and going fast.

"I'll be wearing a back support when I'm driving. We've come up with a support for when I'm in the seat on my car. California is a fairly easy track on a driver. It's a very fast track, but it isn't a rough track and it's fairly flat. It's pretty darn easy physically on a driver, and that's really why I want to go there for my first race. We're going to test Richmond and make sure I'm OK and get me acclimated to going around in circles again."

"For the first few weeks I was here in the house on my back in the bed and I had very little contact with the team. The last several weeks, I've been to the shop, but I had no decision making on the driver change (for Texas with Dick Trickle replacing Ted Musgrave). The last races have been tough for that team, and things have happened. At Bristol, the tab on the radiator cap got bent in that accident and the cap came off. I've never seen that happen before in my racing career, but it happened to this team. I'm not sure why they decided to make the driver change. I was at the shop yesterday, but the decision was made after I left the shop. I had nothing to do with it.

"My comeback is planned for California. Prior to that we're going to test at Richmond, Va. As far as the medication, I'm feeling great and working out. I'm off the medication and pain killers. I still have some pain, but that's why I'm going to work out. I'm on an herbal diet. I take about 24 pills three times a day of various herbs. It's all natural. They seem to be doing a miraculous job of healing. Thank goodness I'm off those pain pills. There's no worry about them affecting my driving or functioning. I drive on the highway. It's tough one-handed, but I'm doing it, and I feel good while I'm doing it.

"Some of those rookies with yellow stripes are really good, and some of them are struggling. My rookie season, like some other drivers that have come in Winston Cup, I'd run quite a variety of cars before I got into Winston Cup. My main racing was the NASCAR modifieds on asphalt, but I also ran modifieds on dirt and late models on dirt. I ran the midgets. I ran supermodifieds. I ran big dirt tracks. I had quite an upbringing and education in different types of cars before I got in the Winston Cup Series. I ran the Busch Grand National Series for a couple of years. I ran so many different tracks. We'd have maybe an hour of practice prior to our racing event. I'd go to tracks I'd never been to before, find a crew, find a setup and then go out there and win. That kind of education has really helped me in Winston Cup my rookie season. I ran a lot tracks I'd never been to before and adapting to those tracks helped me my rookie season. I had a good car and good crew chief to help me. That's a key, too. Racing is so competitive and complicated today, it's even harder today for a rookie to adapt. We're seeing some that have done very well and some are struggling.

"If I'd had arm restraints at Daytona, I might not have broken my right wrist. I might not have the contusions that I have on my arms. We're going to incorporate our restraints, especially when we go to the larger, faster tracks. The seat I use definitely aided in surviving the accident at Daytona, the full-face helmets that I helped introduce to Winston Cup racing helped in lessening the injuries. The main reason I survived, and this is something most drivers believe in and follow, is my faith in God. MRO has been a big part of that for all us racers at the track. Away from the track, it's up to u s to follow that belief no matter how strong it might be. The last several years of my life, it's been very strong, a very big part of my life. Without a doubt, that is the single reason I survived that accident at Daytona. I hope you saw the interview with Jerry Punch on TV. I said I had a near death experience, and I explained what it was. That was real. I've spoken with other folks that had the same type of experiences. After looking at the remains of the truck, I'm truly convinced my faith in God and what God did for me during that accident is the only reason I survived."

"All the other things help, no doubt about it, but God reached out and protected me through that accident, and that's the only reason I'm here today.

"My career in racing as a driver is getting shorter for sure. I worked out so hard this last winter. I've been working out for about two years now, and I really got in excellent condition prior to this season. I wanted to be in good shape. Part of it was I knew I needed to because I'm getting older and the competition is getting younger. I wanted to make the best of the last years in racing I have. I guess that's a sign of urgency. I was doing everything I could to make this season the best I could. Joe Bessey had done the same thing. The new Monte Carlo and the Hendrick engine program. We were starting off the year a lot better than we did a year ago with a brand new team. I wanted to get out this year and just absolutely make the most out of every lap in every race I could. After this setback, I've realized there's more important things in life than worrying about those things. I still want to get back and do the best. I want to go back 100 percent. That's why we're working so hard right now."

GARY BRADBERRY TO DRIVE NO. 41 MONTE CARLO AT TEXAS -- Car owner Larry Hedrick said Tuesday that Rick Mast is out and Gary Bradberry will be behind the wheel of the No. 41 Big Daddy's Monte Carlo on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. Bradberry, a 39-year-old driver from Chelsea, Ala., drove the No. 41 Chevy at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the 1999 season finale. He qualified ninth and finished 35th after parking early with engine problems. "Gary has worked with (crew chief) Philippe Lopez in All-Pro races, and we think he knows his way around tracks like Texas, Atlanta, California and Michigan," Hedrick said. "We're evaluating our options for the rest of the season, but by the time we get to Texas, we should be able to announce our plans. A.J. Foyt made Rick Mast an offer he couldn't refuse, and we wish him the best of luck."

CHEVY SHORTS -- Steve Park, driver of the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo, hopes to end a recent roller-coaster run on Sunday at Texas. In the four races prior to last Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol, Park scored a top-10 finish and then had engine problems to knock him out the next week. He finished ninth at Rockingham and 43rd the next week at Las Vegas. He scored a career-best fourth-place finish at Atlanta and ended up 39th the next week at Darlington. Park won the pole and finished seventh Sunday at Bristol. "Any time you do something positive, it helps the morale of the team," crew chief P aul Andrews said. "I don't care how good the morale is already, a good run helps it and we had a good run Sunday. Our morale wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great. It's great now, and we're exciting about going to Texas. We'll see if we can't keep clawing our way up to the top 10." Park is currently 20th in the standings, 335 points behind the leader and 112 points behind 10th-place Jeff Gordon... Kenny Irwin, driver of the No. 42 BellSouth Chevrolet Monte Carlo, holds the qualifying record at Texas Motor Speedway. Irwin sat on the pole last season at the 1.5-mile track with a lap of 190.154 mph (28.398 seconds) and led the first 33 laps... Team Monte Carlo driver Terr y Labonte drove his No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet to victory at Texas in 1999 with a race record speed of 144.276 mph.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Dick Trickle , Steve Park , Ted Musgrave , Rick Mast , Rick Carelli , Gary Bradberry
Teams HART