TERRY LABONTE, NO. 5 KELLOGG'S/got milk? CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Labonte's victory came 23 years almost to the day of his last Southern 500 triumph in 1980. That also was his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory. It also ended a 156-race ...
TERRY LABONTE, NO. 5 KELLOGG'S/got milk? CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
Labonte's victory came 23 years almost to the day of his last Southern 500 triumph in 1980. That also was his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory. It also ended a 156-race winless streak dating back to Texas Motor Speedway in 1999. It was his third top-five finish of the season and puts him 11th in the points, a single point behind Tony Stewart.
WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND THE LAST FEW LAPS AS YOU KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO WIN THE LAST LABOR DAY SOUTHERN 500?
"I wasn't thinking about that. I was thinking about how long those last few laps were. With about 15 to go, I thought those were the longest 15 laps I'd ever run. It was just a great win for us. The team did a great job, Jim [crew chief Jim Long] and all the guys in the pit crew. We beat them off pit road and that made the difference. We've seen track position make the difference. We got out front and were able to pull away. It was a great day for us. Bill Elliott and I were running together in fourth or fifth, and I thought to myself, 'I hope one of us wins it. It would mean a lot more to us if one of us won it than maybe some of the guys that haven't run here as long and didn't kind of know the history and tradition of Darlington Raceway.' It's a thrill for me to be able to win the last Southern 500 on Labor Day because it's also where I won my first race."
IT'S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE YOU'VE BEEN IN VICTORY LANE. DID YOU EVER WONDER IF YOU'D EVER WIN ANOTHER ONE?
"That's true. Even though you think you still can and you're capable of winning, it all has to fall into place. You don't ever know. It's true for everybody. It's awful nice to end the losing streak from hell."
DID YOU FEEL LIKE KEVIN HARVICK COULD HAVE PASSED YOU IN THE LAST RUN?
"I don't know. It's hard to say. Our cars were about the same the run before the last yellow came out. They worked on the tires a little bit and got it geared up for a shorter run. That made a big difference in the car. It kind of came to life with that last set of tires. You don't ever know. It's still awful difficult to pass. Our cars were really pretty close. I was able to pull away from him pretty good."
DID YOU MAKE YOUR CAR BETTER AS THE DAY WORE ON?
"Yeah, we definitely did. We adjust all day on it, back and forth. We'd be a little loose to start with, a little tight, we got loose again, then we got tight again and we kept adjusting the car. Every pit stop we made some kind of adjustment. It cooled off a little bit and that made the track a little tighter, so we had to work on it on the pit stops. I think our car was a little bit better when it was hot. When it cooled off I thought a lot of guys who were real loose, it helped them. Our car got a little tight and we had to adjust on it a little more."
WHEN DID YOU SEE THE TIDE TURNING HERE?
"As far as I am concerned, I really felt like the spring race here in Darlington was probably the race where we kind of turned the corner here. We had our car working good. Jim and everybody just have done a good job in these races. They've been bringing great race cars that qualify good and race well and we've had some good runs. We've been a lot more consistent than we were last year and you have to be able to be consistent and run that way to win a race. I felt like we were getting closer and closer all the time. I actually told some of the guys on our team that if we could just win a race, it would give us a lot more momentum so we could go into next year and really start off strong. Hopefully, this will do it. We've got some good race tracks. If you had asked me yesterday where I thought my best place to win a race was, I wouldn't have picked Darlington. I'd have picked Richmond. We'll go to Richmond next weekend. During the past two years, we have had some good races. Not many of them, but we have had some good ones."
WHEN YOU FIRST WON HERE IN 1980, YOU SAID IT WAS TOO SOON. WHEN YOU WON HERE TODAY, DO YOU THINK IT WAS TOO LATE?
"I never will forget the first race I won up here. We came here and Billy Hagan came up to the press box--he was a pretty bold guy. We had just won our first race, and he stood up and said, 'in five years you're going to win the championship.' In 1984, when we did, I looked at him and thought, 'I guess he's a little smarter than I thought.' It was a pretty bold statement that he made."
TALK ABOUT YOUR EMOTIONS WHEN THE FANS WERE STANDING THE LAST FEW LAPS AND AGAIN AT THE CHECKERED FLAG.
"I saw the fans all standing down the back straightaway. The flagman told me, 'the next time you win the race, I'll give you the checkered flag and you can take it around the track.' He couldn't get down there to give it to me, but he threw it down and some of our guys came down and gave it to me. It was pretty cool."
THAT LAST STOP WAS 13.1 SECONDS. COULD YOU FEEL HOW FAST IT WAS?
"Sure you can. It all depends on the right side. When the car comes down fast on the right side you can be pretty sure that it's going to be a pretty good stop. It seems like the right side is the key."
HOW HAVE YOU AND JIM EVOLVED FROM THE OLD-SCHOOL RACING TO THE NEW SCHOOL RACING WITH ALL THE ENGINEERS?
"Our team engineer has a laptop computer and he knows everything about that car. Jim and I, coming from the old school and doing things the old way--everybody puts their heads together and it works real good. A lot of things that the computer says don't work. A lot of things that Jim and I want to try, Alan shakes his head and says that won't work. It's just a good mix."
AFTER WINNING YOUR FIRST RACE HERE, HOW DOES IT FEEL TO COME BACK HERE AND WIN THE LAST LABOR DAY RACE HERE?
"To me, the Southern 500 on Labor Day, that's just part of tradition here. The old speedway, back when we raced on Monday and everybody went to Myrtle Beach on Sunday. It's always been a pretty special place to me just because of the fact that I won my first race here and I hate to see it leave. I hate to see the Southern 500 leave Labor Day weekend. It's the oldest speedway we run at, and there's nothing like this. Still, I think tradition is worth something."
DOES THIS RANK NO. 1 ON YOUR VICTORY LIST?
"I think the last one you win is always No. 1."
WILL THIS VICTORY MAKE RETIREMENT EASIER WHENEVER THAT TIME COMES?
"I'm not saying anything, but I'll tell you I won't have a losing streak that long again. [laughter]"
DURING THE LOSING STREAK, DID YOU EVER THINK YOU MIGHT JUST SAY THE HECK WITH IT?
"Not really. I never quit anything or gave up. You don't ever know, but you have to have that belief if you're ever going to go anywhere."