Winston Teleconference Oct. 7, 2003 Bobby Labonte and Michael McSwain NOTE: Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and crew chief Michael McSwain were the guests today in the weekly NASCAR Winston ...
Oct. 7, 2003
Bobby Labonte and Michael McSwain
NOTE: Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and crew chief Michael McSwain were the guests today in the weekly NASCAR Winston Teleconference prior to the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Labonte currently ranks 7th in Winston Cup points and has traditionally been very strong at the 1.5-mile Lowe's Motor Speedway layout. Following are highlights of Tuesday's teleconference:
YOU HAVE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS AT LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY, HAVEN'T YOU?
"Yeah, it's been a great track for us. I always look forward to going there. When you talk about confidence in a race team and a driver and you find a track where you can excel, this is one of the places we can go to and feel a lot more confident and try to gain some momentum back that we've lost the last couple of months. We've had a little bit of tough luck and haven't quite been on top of it, but we look forward to going back to Lowe's Motor Speedway."
ARE YOU HAPPY ABOUT THIS BEING A SATURDAY NIGHT RACE?
"I love it. I have Sunday off and I'm looking forward to it. I don't mean to sound too excited about it. A night race here is good. I think the cars handle better. It's still a multi-groove race track, but the day race, it can be real slippery there. I think this will make for exciting racing."
HOW FRUSTRATING IS HAVING BAD LUCK LIKE YOU'VE HAD RECENTLY?
"I don't know if it's frustration or not. Unfortunately, in our case, some of it has been bad luck that we have encountered and some of it is probably bad luck that we've created on our own. We just have to try and make sure that we don't make the same mistakes over again. We didn't know at the time we made mistakes. We can cure some of the things that happened to us, and just proceed on and not worry about it. It's not really frustration. It's frustrating when you can't finish the race sometimes and you feel like you have a good enough car to make headway in points and you drop some. That gets frustrating, but it's definitely better than it was last year at this time."
DO YOU PRESS A LITTLE TOO HARD, AND IT'S A MATTER OF SETTLING DOWN?
"If you're not winning, you always try to win and you try real hard. Maybe sometimes you take the wrong path in doing that. In our case, we haven't tried to do much different than we did the first year except try to win races. We were finishing really well, but we needed to be one step further ahead. Maybe we took one step back, and now we're trying to get back to that one step ahead, and of course, everybody is moving ahead too. I don't think it's a whole lot more of trying too hard. When things come together, they'll come together, and we just have to make sure we do everything right."
WHEN A DRIVER EARNS HIS FIRST WINSTON CUP VICTORY, IS THERE A DIFFERENCE IN HOW THAT DRIVER IS PERCEIVED IN THE GARAGE?
"To a certain extent, yes. When a guy wins a race, that's a big feat nowadays, and Jamie [McMurray] did a good job winning that race last year. Going back, I'm sure he's like we are, confident to go back to a track that you like to race at. You've won there once and you know that you can win there again. I think everybody knows he was talented before he won a race, and you just say they did everything they needed to win."
DID THEY TREAT YOU ANY DIFFERENT WHEN YOU WON YOUR FIRST RACE?
"I think they probably look at you on the competitive side, when you begin to be competitive week in and week out, they look at you as who to beat, who do you have to beat this weekend and next/ If you are competitive week in and week out, then you're in that group of cars they look at. I think that's where people look at you differently. They do that to keep an eye on you."
A NUMBER OF DRIVERS AND TEAMS FOR NEXT YEAR ARE UP IN THE AIR, YET YOU AND TONY ARE LOCKED IN FOR THE NEAR FUTURE. IS IT AN ADVANTAGE TO NOT HAVE TO DEAL WITH THAT?
"Yeah, and it gives you a chance to work on other things to make the program better at all costs. If you get something floating out there and everyone's wondering whether the driver is going to be there or not, that's not a good situation. It could be a split decision within the team, but I think if you have a solid base and your performance is good--if you are going to be there your performance has to be there with it, or if not, you need to be figuring out how to get better or not be there. If your performance is good and you're continuing to try and get better, I think that's a big key. It will help you and your program to get better for all the other races."
THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT FUEL MILEAGE. DOES WHAT RYAN NEWMAN HAS DONE MAKE YOU THINK YOU HAVE TO FIGURE OUT SOMETHING BETTER?
"I don't think you can go without looking at what they're doing and just say, 'well, we're just going to keep doing what we're doing and let them do what they're doing.' Obviously, they're winning races. You have to look at all the angles. Nowadays, the cars have gotten so much more sophisticated aerodynamics-wise and chassis-wise. There are a lot of smart people working on race teams lately. You have people that are looking at all different ways to win races. It's not just about four springs and a sway bar. Now you have four springs, two sway bars and four shocks that could be better than the next guy's. It all goes into play. You have to look at all the aspects of getting to the checkered flag first, whether it's having the fastest car, the best fuel mileage or having the best track position. You can't just let it all go. You have to be looking at everything. I think that's what Marr [Borland] and Ryan have done. They've looked at how the racing is, knowing that track position is important and that fuel mileage is important, and they've played that to their advantage."
EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT THE POINT SYSTEM CHANGING FOR 2004. DO YOU HAVE A REVISION YOU'D LIKE TO SEE?
"No, I don't. There's nothing wrong with it. There was nothing wrong with it halfway through the season. When Matt continued to proceed on with finishing races like he should, being consistent on all kinds of tracks, road courses, flat tracks, high-banked tracks--if we ran figure-8s he'd be good at that, probably. There's nothing wrong with that. The last two weeks just shows the points have come back to the competitors in second and third on back. I don't see anything wrong with it. If a guy is good every weekend and is consistent, then he deserves to win. It's just like Ryan Newman playing the same game with fuel mileage, and tire strategy and track position. They've won eight races and had some tough luck in others, but it takes being consistent. I can tell you that they didn't just work on winning eight races and falling out of four or five. They worked on being consistent, and it just didn't happen for them, and that's the way the points are structured. Matt took advantage of being as consistent as possible. He's only won one race, but he's been competitive. If I'm not mistaken, the Busch Series and the Truck Series distribute points the same way. The Busch Series has the top four within 80-some-odd points and the Truck Series is close, so it just happens that way. There's no rhyme or reason why the Cup Series has been like this. They can't change one without changing the rest of them, and there's nothing wrong with them in the other two series. Matt Kenseth is doing what he's supposed to be doing. The way the point system is, you have to be consistent everywhere. That's what they're doing. They've been able to capitalize on it. The past two weeks, they haven't, and look what's happened. The people have caught up to 259 points, and that makes it a lot closer than it was. If it happens one more time and it's down to 160, then all of a sudden, all that we've talked about for the past six months, everybody will say, 'well, I guess we shouldn't have been worried about it. It took care of itself.' If it doesn't, he deserves it."
GOING BACK TO FUEL MILEAGE, DO YOU THINK THAT HAS TAKEN SOMETHING AWAY FROM THE RACING?
"It's not like what we're used to. If you look at Matt and Ryan, they came into the sport a handful of years ago or less. They're not used to really racing the tires coming off the car after 50 laps. They're more used to tire wear not being a factor, and track position being a factor. They came on board and their mentality is not that of 5, 10 or 15 years ago. What they're doing now is just what they've understood for the past four or five years. I'd like to see it go back to where the tires play a bigger factor, where the car has to be set up to where if you're losing grip, track position doesn't mean that much. I think that would be more exciting racing for the fans, both on TV and at the track, because it gets pretty monotonous. I passed six cars in the first race at Loudon in the last 110 laps with no tires, just fuel, and I passed more than anybody. That's not what I think it needs to be. I think the tires need to be able to give up grip, they wear down to where you need gas and tires and you might could go fast for 15 laps and your car gives up and you work on your car. We don't work on our car that much; track position is the biggest factor."
WILL PEOPLE WHO AREN'T IN THE POINTS RACE TAKE MORE CRAZY CHANCES IN THESE LAST SIX RACES?
"I don't know. I think you do in a way, but there are people who take chances anyway. I think I've heard that six of the eight wins Ryan has have been, 'well, we can't make it on fuel, but we'll try it anyway.' I thought that was a pretty big risk unless they knew they could make it. I'm not sure, anymore, that people don't try that anyway. They might just luck up and win. It's a yes and no situation. It kind of depends on who it is."
YOU'VE WON TITLES BEFORE. HOW HARD IS IT TO CLOSE THE DEAL?
"I guess it depends on what situation your race team is in. When we won in 2000, we were, week in and week out, doing things right and we built up a pretty good points lead. Whether you say it or not, I always said I never had any pressure on my shoulders, but the day after, there sure was a lot off of it for some reason. You always kept an eye on the guys running second and third, close to you in the championship. It gets down to crunch time, and early in the year if something goes wrong, you say, 'hey, we can make up for it.' Late in the year, you don't have time. It starts to wear on your mind after a while. If you lead the points for 32 races out of the year and you have four more races to do and they're catching you, it just makes different things in your mind. You don't want to be on the defensive, but you might get there. It's just kind of a natural feeling to do that."
HOW DO NIGHT RACES AT THIS TIME OF YEAR IMPACT YOU AS A DRIVER AND YOUR PREPARATION?
"We've kind of hit a little cold spell here, with temperatures in the 50s, but our practices will not be in those types of temperatures. It won't be changing too much because we're expecting cloudy skies on Thursday and Friday. But it is going to affect our car some. We have some notes from the Coca-Cola 600 that help us out a little and give us an indication of what we need to do with the changes from day to night. You just expect that and build your race car that day with adjustability built into it so you can adjust if need be. For the most part, if it gets wicked cold, the tires aren't going to work well until they get some temperature into them. So the biggest thing is to be careful at the beginning. Once the temperature comes up in the tires, it usually maintains. If the track temp is 50 or 60 degrees, you aren't going to get temps up like you usually can. You basically have to work with it. We'll have a looser setup in it for a night race than a day race, but you still have to turn the car, so you have to work with that too. It's not necessarily mapped out in stone what you have to do. You just have to work with it."
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON FOR 2004?
"Well, unfortunately, I think we have to change all the bodies, so all the guys will be looking forward to that over the winter. I say that sarcastically because that's not what they wanted to do. It's job security, but they'll do that and we'll work on getting the balance as good as possible with the spoiler being different for next year. We want to keep it at a comfortable level, like where I'm at now and was at a couple of years ago. We might have to go try that a couple places and see what the wind tunnel tells us. We've already looked at testing a road course and doing just a couple of different things that we haven't tried. Maybe we'll do a couple of short-track tests that we might could learn some things from and some geometry stuff and obviously, fuel mileage."
WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING FROM HOMESTEAD?
"What you're going to see down there is a really fast race track. I'm sure with the grip of the new asphalt they're going to have, it's going to be an unbelievable amount of grip. There always is when they repave a race track or in this case have a new design. It's going to be hard to say because everyone is going at it new. You can play a video game all you want, but until you get out there, you're not going to feel what goes through your hands and your butt and your feet and tells you what you need to know. We look forward to going down there. It's a fast place because of the way the banking is going to be."