BOBBY LABONTE , DRIVER OF THE NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES/MBNA CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: During Friday's qualifying session for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Bobby Labonte just couldn't figure out why his Interstate Batteries ...
BOBBY LABONTE , DRIVER OF THE NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES/MBNA CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
During Friday's qualifying session for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Bobby Labonte just couldn't figure out why his Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Monte Carlo wouldn't run faster. He qualified 11th for Sunday's 400-lap affair on the 1.5-mile LMS oval, which isn't all that bad considering it's NASCAR's longest race. On Saturday morning, in the final two Winston Cup practice sessions, Labonte was quickest in the morning and third fastest in the final practice.
WHAT WAS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN QUALIFYING YESTERDAY AND PRACTICE TODAY?
"It was a case of race setup over qualifying setup, and I'm probably a better racer than a qualifier here. I just can't make myself do the right things as a driver here to go fast. I think the car was there, the driver just screwed up. That was the biggest thing. Today, the things I did as far as race setup seem to be a little bit better than they were yesterday."
LOWE'S AND TRACKS LIKE IT SEEM TO BE GOOD FOR YOU. WHY?
"I have no idea. I always have fun here. It's rough, and it's really cool because the tires, over a fuel run, give up a second or a second and a half, and that's the way it should be at every racetrack. You have to drive it differently, learn what to do and when. You don't want to go fast at the beginning for fear of giving up at the end. It's more of a driver's track when the tires give up and the speeds fall off."
HOW MUCH DOES THE EXTRA 100 MILES AFFECT YOU, OR DOES IT?
"I love the distance. I can't tell the difference between 500 and 600 miles out there. Some 500-milers last four hours plus and this is going to be four hours plus, so that extra 100 miles isn't really as much as it sounds like."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO BE IN SHAPE?
"It's important. You don't have to be a muscle man but you definitely need to be in shape. It takes a lot out of you."
Labonte earned his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory here on May 28, 1995, and has finished in the top five in the Coca-Cola 600 five times in 10 tries. Four of those top-five finishes came from 1998-2001.
ROBBY GORDON , NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO
ON SHARING PRACTICE WITH SUNDAY STAND-BY, RON HORNADAY, AND MAKING A QUICK DRIVER SWITCH IF NECESSARY.
"It's not going to take a long time (to adjust the seat & belts, etc). This is one of those carbon seats that has seat belts mounted to the bottom so it doesn't have adjusters. It's one of those improvements that NASCAR has allowed that makes us safer. I've got a great opportunity this weekend. We've got two really good race cars. The Cingular Wireless Chevrolet was real fast in this morning's practice and everything has been running real smooth. It's going to be fun."
JIMMIE JOHNSON , NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO
ON HAVING TO START IN THE BACK OF THE PACK SUNDAY
"Obviously we would like to have had a shot at the pole. But things happen and it's just how it is. We had another freak thing, and engine thing, and we're pushing the envelope so hard. In building things stronger in certain areas, you don't realize the affect it's going to have on the other side. That's basically the problem we had. We got things fixed and understood. These guys at the engine shop were up all night trying to figure it out and they figured it out and all of us are much smarter about it today. We hate coming from the back, but I've got an incredible team and an incredible race car and we should be in good shape."
IS THIS GOING TO BE A MORE STRATEGICAL RACE NOW BY HAVING TO COME FROM THE BACK OF THE PACK?
"Luckily the race is long. We've had problems where we've had to start at the back of the pack before and it seems like we've run out of laps in a 500-mile race. With an extra 100 miles, it makes it a lot different. We're going to have to play our game as though we were starting up front. We're going to have a loose race car in the beginning and a tight car at night and we just need to be on top of our changes. We know there will be cautions and it's going to bunch everything up. We'll be fine."
AT LAST YEAR'S COCA-COLA 600, YOU SLIPPED THROUGH YOUR PIT AT THE END OF THE RACE AND THIS YEAR, YOU'VE HAD ENGINE PROBLEMS BEFORE THE RACE. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE ADVERSITY OF THE 600?
"I don't know. I'd rather have the adversity now than at the end of the 600 like I did last year. We were able to win The Winston in the Lowe's Chevrolet and hopefully we'll have a little bit of luck on our side and dodge some bullets getting through traffic. We'll be looking for some good luck at the end of this race so that we can pull this Lowe's Monte Carlo into Victory Lane."
IS THE EXTRA 100 MILES IN THE COCA-COLA 600 A BIG DEAL?
"It is a big deal in a lot of ways. From the driver aspect, I don't think it's that big of a challenge. We need to pay more attention to the pace of the race and charging at certain times. But these cars are 500-mile time bombs. We're getting all the horsepower we can out of them to go 500 miles. It's the same with the components on the car. When you add an extra 100 miles on there, you're fatiguing a lot of parts. So, for sure everyone has new stuff and we hope to be in good shape."
BASED ON YOUR FAST PRACTICE TIMES, ARE YOU HAPPY WITH YOUR RACE CAR?
"This is a great race car and this is probably one of my most favorite tracks to run on. It's rough, it's out of control, and you've got to be loose to be fast. It fits my style. So I'm excited."
JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: "We were pretty good. I'm real happy with it. The first practice we were good. The second practice we struggled a little bit. The track changed quite a bit on us. I think we've got a really good race car so we should be good."
IS IT IMPORTANT TO BE GOOD FAIRLY EARLY IN THE RACE?
"It's important to be pretty good because you can get a lap down. That's the most important thing. Staying on the lead lap through the first 300 or 400 miles. If you can do that, you're going to find a way to be in position at the end. But if you're really good at the beginning, you might not be so good at the end. You have to find a way of getting that balance of being the best at the end but not too far off at the beginning."