NOTE: Bobby Labonte was Saturday morning's guest at the Winston Breakfast Club at Chicagoland Speedway. The 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup champion comes into Sunday's Tropicana 400 fourth in the driver's points standing with one win, 10 top fives and...
NOTE: Bobby Labonte was Saturday morning's guest at the Winston Breakfast Club at Chicagoland Speedway. The 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup champion comes into Sunday's Tropicana 400 fourth in the driver's points standing with one win, 10 top fives and 11 top-10 finishes.
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR WEEKEND SO FAR?
"We didn't qualify as well as we would've liked to, obviously. We were 18th fastest. We ran a little better than that in practice, we just didn't pick up enough speed. I'm not totally disappointed, but a little bit upset that we didn't go faster in qualifying. If everybody picked up, it would be one thing, but a lot of people picked up and we didn't. It's just one of those things. We'll get ready for practice this morning. We've got two 45-minute practice sessions to get ready for the race tomorrow. Hopefully the weather does what it's supposed to for tomorrow."
YOU HAVE 10 TOP FIVES AND 11 TOP 10s SOFAR THIS SEASON. IT SEEMS LIKE YOUR BACK TO THE CONSISTENCY YOU HAD IN 2000.
"Yea, we've had a great streak of races. The guys have done a great job preparing race cars. I just can't say enough about the preparation of race cars. And our good luck on the racetrack for about 94% of the races, and we've had some bad luck in a few of them. We've been running good and consistent. It kind of does remember our year like 1999, and even better in 2000. We just have to stay consistent to stay up there in points."
DO YOU COMPARE WHERE YOU ARE THIS YEAR WITH WHERE YOU WERE IN A STRONG YEAR LIKE 2000?
"No, I broke the crystal ball last year. It fell. I was looking for it last year and couldn't find it. It's hard to compare. In 2000, we finished like all but nine laps the whole year, which was unbelievable. This year, obviously, we've not finished like 190 laps. So you can't really compare. You can compare to other guys where you are this year, like that year we compared with where guys were that year. It seems like it's changed. Matt (Kenseth) is having a great season. He's not had any misfortunes. A lot of guys have, and I think we're one of them. Then like last year you had Tony Stewart that had six DNFs and still won the championship. So I don't think you can really compare year to year, I think you just have to worry about what you're doing today and compare it with where you are relevant to the rest of your competitors today."
ARE YOU HAPPIER RUNING THE WAY YOU ARE THIS YEAR?
"Yea, I think that's safe to say. I might hide my frustrations a lot more if I'm not running good. I try not to let it out too much, I just ry and go and hide that to myself a lot more. It's obviously a lot more fun to run good than not to run good. At the same time, I think what we did the last two years wasn't any fun, but we learned a lot. It's not what you want to do, but we learned. And it builds yourself up for a year like this because you say, "'Man, it could get really bad, so don't worry.' You try and stay as focused as you can and you learn from what happened the last couple of years. A lot of guys would have our last couple of years too, but from what we did a couple of years ago, we want to try and stay as focused as we can and run as good as we can, and what we did last year and the year before, try not to do that again."
LOOKS LIKE THE ROOF HATCH IS CLOSER TO REALITY. HOW CLOSE WERE YOU INVOLVED WITH THAT AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT?
"I wasn't involved at all, to be honest with you. I though it was a good idea. A couple people said something about it and I was like, 'That's a good idea.' So I had nothing to do with it. Joe Gibbs was big for it. I don't know who has been the driving force behind that to get it to the point where it's in NASCAR hands, but obviously somebody has and they have to be committed on what they're doing to make it better yet on their front. It's just hard to get out of these race cars, so an 'escape hatch' sounds like the right thing to do, so let's do it. It's just like anything else. A few years ago when the roof flaps came out, it was like, 'Wait a second. There testing with a jet blower, airplane and all of that stuff. Hmm, that's not going to work.' But that's just your first impression. Now it's just second nature. You're saying we've got to have it and we want more of them. This roof-hatch deal will be trial and error just like everything else. Somebody was behind it. Joe (Gibbs) was behind it, I know, but I wasn't. It sounds like a good deal to me."
LAST WEEK ROBBIE GORDON LOST A HOOD INTO THE GRANDSTANDS. WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ON WHETHER A CAR SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO GO BACK OUT ON THE TRACK AFTER AN ACCIDENT?
"I know this has happened a couple of times, and it's a bad situation all the way around. It's good that we have cars on the racetrack, trying to make laps and trying to make points, because the way the points system is structured that's what you want to do and try to do. I thought those tethers on the hood were going to hold it, but evidently something didn't hold it. I don't know what didn't hold it, but something didn't. That's always a tough call. Remember back years ago, Joe Gazaway and Dick Beatty. They'd be there at a wreck right there watching it, and they wouldn't let you out until they said it was okay. I know they have inspectors doing that today, but that was the main guy doing it. Of course there's a lot more to it than there was back then. They used to do that, and I know they do it today. And they only give you one chance to get up to speed - if you don't, you're done. It's a concern, but other than changing the rules where if you wreck you can't go race. I don't think that's the right way to go. If you wreck you've got to have your car where nothing flies off of it, and if it does, maybe you're fined. I don't want to say that and everybody start that, but something happens to you if something flies off of your car. You have to be responsible yourself to make sure nothing happens, nothing flies off that car and gets in the grandstand."
DOES IT BOTHER WHEN YOU'RE IN THAT SITUATION GOING OUT IN A BATTERED RACE CAR?
"It does in a way. A lot of times you're frustrated because you've got to go out there and run around. Four hundred laps at Bristol on the bottom of the racetrack getting in everybody's way is not fun, so you don't want to do that. It's frustrating, but at the same time, in Robby's position, and my position that I've done many times before, I'm out there riding along and here, 'Hey, if you go eight more laps you'll pick up another position. You're going, 'Good, eight more laps.' Everything's falling apart, but you're trying to get that extra position because you know it's worth something at the end of the year. You fight all year long for what Winston pays at the end, and it doesn't matter what it is, sometimes you take that risk to do that."
HOW MANY DRIVERS DO YOU THINK ARE SERIOUS CONTENDERS FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"I'd say it probably depends on what some of the top guys do. Obviously Matt (Kenseth's) the most serious contender because he's got a big lead. And there's guys from second to fourth, and then fifth to eighth, and ninth to 11th, or 13th is pretty close. Some people have said four, some people have said six, and somebody said the other day that Tony Stewart is still in it and he's 11th. With this 20-week stretch, if you have something happen to you this weekend and have a bad finish, you say, 'We can't afford to do that again.' And then all of a sudden some freak thing happens the next weekend at Loudon, which could happen. And now we've had two bad finishes. So the guy that was all of a sudden here is now here. The guy that was here had two good races and he's changed positions with you, so you never know. You know, but you don't know. Anything can happen, there's no way of telling. You think that everything's going to go good and the clouds going to move the same way it has all year, but you don't know when something is going to happen to it, and somebody is going to go down and somebody is going to come up. If the guys that are in the top five finish in the top five all the time, it's going to be down to four or five, but that remains to be seen." (PLEASE EXPLAIN YOUR CIRCLE THEORY.) "Sometimes you're on top and sometimes you're on the bottom. You're either going to slide down or you're going to climb up. I just feel like in '99 and 2000 we were up here, and then we started sliding down a little bit, and last year we were down here on the bottom. I was like, 'Okay, career change, what can I do?' It was frustrating for us. And then this year we're finally back up. It just seems like guys have years like that, and some guys circles are this big, and some guys circles are this big. Here's my circle theory. I ran a Busch car, and then I quit running a Busch car and ran a Cup car. Then I got down here and said I better run a Busch car again so I remember how to drive. I got back up here again and quit running the Busch car, and then I got down here and started running a Busch car again. So I told them I hope that was my last Busch ride because I didn't want to do that again. But it just seems like it's a circle. Jeff Gordon stays on top of his circle probably more than most people. I've had a couple loops on my circle, and some other guy might not have as many loops as me and is just staying here on the bottom. That's a dumb way to look at it, but that's how I look at it."
IS THERE A SYSTEM IN PLACE TO MAKE SURE THE DRIVER IS OKAY TO GO BACK OUT ON THE RACE TRACK AFTER A WRECK?
"There is a system now more than there ever has been. I'm proof of that. At Daytona in February, we got in a crash on pit road. It really wasn't that big of a deal. I got out of the car because the steering shaft broke. I was going to walk down pit road but they made me get back in the ambulance and go to the Infield Care Center where they check your blood pressure and make you sign a waiver. So they check you over before you go back on the racetrack. If you're involved in an accident, you have to go to the Infield Care Center. There is more (in place) today than there ever has been to make sure you're okay and to get you back on the race track."
ON WITHSTANDING PAIN AND RACING FOR MORE POINTS.
"We were driving over here yesterday morning and there was a lot of pollen in the air. That bothers some people and they get congested. But you can't do anything about it if you don't feel good. You've just got to fluid up and go. If you can drive the car without being totally hurt, you just have to endure it I guess. I broke a shoulder blade. But with the money these guys pay (RJR), you want to be there at the end of the year."
HOW MUCH PAIN WERE YOU IN?
"I didn't take any drugs except for over the counter pain relievers. The doctor that worked on me was a sports trainer and he didn't want that to happen. It was hurt, but it wasn't do bad I didn't drive."
DO YOU SEE MORE AGGRESSIVE DRIVING THIS YEAR?
"I see that and it's harder to pass. The harder it is to pass, the more you want to race on pit road or get a lap back or pass a guy before you get to the line. It just happens that way because the nature of our sport has gotten where it's harder to pass on the racetrack. That's not necessarily every weekend or every racetrack or every year. But that's just the way the competition has grown. If you have more competitive cars, you want to race every moment you can. Every time you enter or exit pit road, you're wide open trying to gain a tenth of a second or a position here or there."
WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF ACHIEVING CONSISTENCY IN A SEASON AND THEN PROGRESSING WITH IT?
"You've got to have a good baseline. You've got to have pieces and parts that don't break. You've got to be on top of your game week in and week out. You can't run bad and expect to be consistent. You've got to make sure you accomplish everything - fuel, mileage, pit stop coordination, pit selection, and everything. It's not one thing it's several things."
FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP, WOULD YOU RATHER BE THE GUY BEING CHASED OR THE GUY DOING THE CHASING?
"I'd rather be the guy that people are chasing. In 2000, we were being chased all the time and that was a neat deal. You can't afford to make mistakes when you're being chased. But at the same time, the guy doing the chasing can't afford to make mistakes. (As in the case of point leader Matt Kenseth) we can't control his destiny. When you're up front where he is, he can control his own destiny - he's trying to control his own destiny without bad luck. That's a challenge."
"That's an awesome place to be in. That's where we were in 2000. It's quite a challenge to come to the racetrack and think about what you have to accomplish that weekend to stay there. I'd rather be in Matt's position than mine today to try to win a championship. If you're leading, you know what you have to do to stay there. If you're fourth - where we are - you've got to hope that he has a little trouble too, but you can't control that."
IN 2000, DID YOU FEEL INVINCIBLE EACH TIME YOU WENT TO THE TRACK?
"Yeah, we kind of did. In '99 we built ourselves up and in 2000 we stayed there. I did. I thought we would do well week in and week out. We thought if we didn't qualify in the top 10, we were mad. If you didn't finish in the top seven, you were mad. Last year, we were trying hard to get a top 10 for a long time there. There's a big difference between trying to get a top ten and being made if you don't finish in the top seven. So that's where we felt invincible and Matt (Kenseth) probably feels the same way. They might not have it when you get to the race track but before the weekend is over you feel like if you don't finish in the top 10 you didn't have a good day at all."
WHAT SHOULD WE MAKE OF KEVIN HARVICK AS A DRIVER AND A GUY WHO IS TRYING TO MAKE A GO OF IT IN THIS BUSINESS?
"I think Kevin Harvick is a great guy. He's a hard racer. He races me hard. If his car is not right or if mine is better than his, he's not going to hold me up and vice versa. You race people like that the way they race you. I think he was thrown into a situation that nobody wanted to be thrown into (when Dale Earnhardt died), but he was in the right line for it. He just got thrown in there sooner than he anticipated of course. I'm sure that first year - as good as it was for him - was hard. He won real fast (but) but last year he struggled. I'm sure you try to find yourself and do what you can to be better. You probably learn more about yourself getting to that point. They're kind of on a roll back this year. They've gotten better finishes. They've been climbing back up that ladder. I think its just maturity in trying to find himself. Not that he wasn't mature before but it's just a different alignment of where you are. I think he's doing a great job. I know he did some stuff last year that he regrets, but I think we all realize that. He probably wishes he could have a mulligan, but he can't. He's got to live with that. I think he's focused. He knows what he wants to do and he's a hard racer. It's just like anything else. Things are a lot different after you've been here for 10 years than they are after three years. He's good to race with. Robby Gordon might not say that but I can say that because I can race with him fine."
AT THE HALFWAY POINT IN THE SEASON, IS THERE ANY ONE THING THAT STANDS OUT FOR YOUR TEAM AND THE SPORT AS A WHOLE?
"For our team, starting off with everything new and starting off as strong as we have (stands out). We've been able to maintain that with our finishes, a win, and strings of top fives and top 10's. We had new people. I think that's a story in itself. Last year we finished 18th in points and this year we're in fourth place now. We just made some changes in the race team. What I feel good about and the highlight of our year is that fact that our restructuring. It wasn't one thing. It was that we took the whole team and changed it around and made it look like we're a contender (for the title) halfway through the season. As far as the sport, I think the Nextel sponsorship is a big deal. That's obviously the headline. It's unfortunate that they're (RJR) is having to do this (end their sponsorship of the series), but we look forward to Nextel coming in and going to the next level."
WITH YOUR BROTHERLY RIVALRY WITH TERRY LABONTE, HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE BACK ON YOUR GAME?
"We don't consider it a rivalry, but we have a good time. I'm glad he's running better and I'm glad I'm running better. We talk about it some, but we don't kid each other about who beat whom each week. We don't really do that. I'm a supporter of him and he's a supporter of me. I think it's awesome that he's back up there being competitive. He's had three or four bad years and I think it's good that he's back up there running good."
DO YOU HAVE TO BE IN A CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE AND LOSE ONE IN ORDER TO WIN ONE?
"I don't think so - not any more. With the way Matt Kenseth is running, I don't think so. Last year Tony Stewart won and he finished second I think the year before so that kind of made sense. We did the same thing a couple of years ago - finished second and then won. But I don't know that's really the case. I think it can be sometimes. But in Matt's case, even though Roush hasn't won a Winston Cup championship, they've won several championships. And I think the team is strong enough and they've got five or six cars with Ricky (Rudd) in there, to support the whole program. I think they can be on their game with it. Matt's been close enough to the Busch championship that they know what to do."