Daytona 500: GM - Terry Labonte Saturday interview

TERRY LABONTE, NO. 5 KELLOGG'S/GOT MILK? CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: "This is an exciting weekend for us, for our 25th Daytona 500. This year we've got a new look on our car, we've got 'got milk?' on it also, and we're going to have a special car...


"This is an exciting weekend for us, for our 25th Daytona 500. This year we've got a new look on our car, we've got 'got milk?' on it also, and we're going to have a special car later, but 'got milk?' is going to be on it all year long so it's going to be a little bit of a new look for us.

"I'm looking forward to this season. I think everybody knows it's our 25th year and it's our 25th Daytona 500. Daytona's always a special place. We've run well down here during the week, we just haven't finished well, anything we've run in. Hopefully tomorrow will be the opposite and we'll have a good finish. We're looking forward to it."

DAYTONA LAUNCHES THE SEASON - IT'S ALMOST LIKE TWO SEASONS. SOME PEOPLE SAY THE SEASON GETS UNDERWAY AT ROCKINGHAM AND BEGINS THE CHASE FOR THE WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP. YOUR COMMENTS. "You know, I've had people ask me from time to time why do you run your biggest race first, and I just don't think it would be right if it wasn't first. The Daytona 500 is our biggest event, there's so much anticipation going into the event. So many people with new teams, new crew members, new looks, new sponsors. So it's a great way to kick off the year. And then once you get past the Daytona 500 it continues to build towards the championship, so I think it's set up perfect. The Daytona 500 is the biggest event and if you do win it, it probably does make your season. I don't know that yet, but I know winning the championship sure makes your year too."

YOU KNOW THE PRESSURES OF RUNNING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP - HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE THE LAST RACE BE THE PEPSI 400 HERE AT DAYTONA? "I really don't think it makes a lot of difference. You're going to run those events anyway. I don't think it really matters what order they're in. Every race when you're running for the championship is very important. You look at each individual race differently, I think. The restrictor-plate races, you look at them a little bit differently than you maybe do the other races such as Rockingham or a place like that. But as far as the order, I don't think it really matters."

COMPARE RACING HERE 25 YEARS AGO VERSUS TODAY AND THE HE CHANGES THAT HAVE OCCURRED. "It's definitely changed a lot. Years ago you could come down here and if you had a good car, you could see a big pack of cars when you started the race, but it normally would get spread out pretty good. It might come down to three or four guys that really had good cars, then the further down the road you went it might be a pack of up to 10 cars. But it always came down to some really good cars, and they would be in it at the end. Actually, the racing from a competitor's standpoint was better because you could actually really race and try to improve your positions, try to pass people. If you got out of line, you only fell back to seventh or eighth, or something like that. So what, you had time to work your way back up. You can't really do that today. Today, you have to try and protect your positions all day long because you could go from third or fourth all the way back to 35th before you get back in line. It's definitely changed a lot. There's no comparison."

WHICH DO YOU PREFER? "The old way's better."

TALK ABOUT WORKING WITH YOUR TEAMMATES, SPECIFICALLY JOE NEMECHEK. "A lot of that kind of goes out the window once the race starts. Nothing ever really goes the way you think it's going to go. At times during the event you can work with somebody, but a lot of time during the event you're working with someone that's not your teammate too. In general, our teams will work together, talk to each other, compare notes and that sort of thing. They do that a lot. But as far as on the racetrack, a lot of times that's pretty difficult."

IF THE CARS GO FASTER, WILL THEY SPREAD OUT MORE AND WOULD YOU BE IN FAVOR OF THAT? "There are a lot of different way to look at it, as to whether they would spread out more. I think the biggest way here at Daytona would be the handling of the cars. Daytona is a track that your car has to handle good at. Of course, today we've got smaller fuel tanks in the car, so you'll pit between lap 32 and 38 and get fuel. Well, you put on tires, too, so that helps the handling of the car. If the cars probably had 30-gallon tanks the field would be separated because the chassis is going to come into play a lot more. After you get up to the 40- or 50-lap range the cars don't handle as good, so then the cars that handle best will separate themselves from the others. So, the small fuel cell isn't helping separate it. It's creating some excitement on pit road, but I don't think it's really doing much to separate the field."

HOW DO YOU APPROACH THE IDEA OF HOW LONG YOU'RE GOING TO RACE IN YOUR CAREER? "I've got in my mind what I've got in my mind. I don't know if anybody else is going to agree with it or not. There's going to be a day when I'm going to share that with everybody, but it's not today."

DO YOU ALREADY HAVE A PLAN IN PLACE? "It's not definitely cast in stone. It could move a year or two, but not much more than that. I'm not going to race as long as some guys did, I can tell you that."

WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR? "It would definitely be the two championships, without a doubt. Both of them were unbelievable. Anytime you can win a championship it's just the greatest thing in our sport that I think you can accomplish. I think by winning it in 1984, I had just turned 28 that weekend. It was a big weekend. It was a big deal and I knew that. But, I didn't really realize, at the time, how big it was until a couple years later when I realized how hard it was to win the next one. We really felt like we were going to win it the next year, also, and it took 12 years for that next year to come around, so the one in '96 was very special, too."

IS THE STRATEGY USED TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP DIFFERENT NOW THAN IT USED TO BE? "No. The points system is the same, the strategy is the same. Nothing is really different. You have to be consistent. You've got to run well at all the tracks - big tracks, small tracks, intermediate tracks. I don't really think the strategy has changed at all."

IS THERE ANY ONE DAYTONA 500 THAT STANDS OUT TO YOU? "The first one I ran was pretty impressive, I thought. We had a big wreck down the back straightaway and a big fight down in turn three and four. I thought, 'This is really pretty cool here.' Actually, the clutch came out of my car and all I had left was high gear. The clutch came out and I ran three or four laps, and there wasn't but a handful of laps left. It finally wouldn't pull anymore, so I pulled in off the back straightaway. They had an opening back there by that lake. I pulled in, got out of the car and I watched the last few laps with a safety worker there. He had on a radio. I saw them wrecking going down the back straightaway.

"Then, he turned to me and he said, 'They're fighting down there in the corner.' I said, 'Who?' He said, 'Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough.' I said, 'Bobby Allison wasn't in the wreck.' He said, 'Well, they said it was Bobby Allison,' and it was, too. That one there stood out in my mind.

"We have had some good runs down here in the '500.' Probably the one that was most disappointing was in '96 when we led the most laps. I think we definitely had the fastest car and a plastic bag got sucked into the air cleaner. That was probably the best chance that we had to win. You don't come down here every year and have a car as good as that one. That is something that doesn't happen every year.

"I could probably pick out something about all of them, but that first one made a pretty good impression on me."


WITH A FORECAST FOR RAIN TOMORROW, WILL YOU BE MAKING ANY ADJUSTMENTS? "Not really. Whether it rains or not we really won't make any adjustments to our car. We've kind of worked all week to get it to where we want it. I don't think much rain would make a big difference on it."

IF THE RAIN COMES INTO PLAY, WILL YOUR APPROACH TO THE RACE CHANGE? "Not really. The only thing it could make a difference on is maybe your strategy, which, you're kind of locked into that a little bit with your fuel tank, as far as how far you can go on gas."

IF THE CHEVROLETS CONTINUE TO DOMINATE, DO YOU SEE COMPLAINTS COMING FROM OTHER CAMPS? "I'm sure there will be. We'll just have to wait and see. The DEI teams are awfully fast. They've just really got something figured out that I don't think the other teams have. The Childress teams have run good here in the past and they're running good again. But, there again, I think those teams are just very good teams at speedway racing. When you get past those guys, I think everybody else is pretty even."

WHY IS THIS RACE SO TOUGH TO WIN? "In the past, over the years, it's always been a tough race to win. People used to never even test and then you would just test for Daytona. What happens is that you'd have people that would run a limited schedule that would test for Daytona. This is the one event that everybody puts so much effort into.

"They put a lot more effort into this one than they do a race at a lot of other tracks. Now, even with the limited testing everybody still tests here where they don't a lot of other tracks, so it just equals the competition up. Today, with the rules here and the way it is, it always seems here recently that the fastest cars get to the front and they pretty much stay there. There really isn't much you can do to your chassis to make it handle better. Everybody's got pretty good pit stops now, so it is, for whatever reason, one of the most difficult races to win. It always has been.

"I can remember coming down here - I finished second in the '500.' It was the year Earnhardt cut a tire on the last lap and Derrike Cope won the race. Here was a guy that had never finished in the top five in a race before and he won the '500.' But, he ran a great race that day. He won the race. He ran a great race all day long and he was there. They had a great car and a great team and put out a great effort. You see that a lot. It's just difficult to win."

DOES THE SMALLER FUEL CELL ELIMINATE A LOT OF STRATEGY IN THIS RACE? "It does a little bit because every time you pit, it will take just enough fuel to put on two tires without wasting any time. What you would probably do is under a caution flag you'd always put on four and under the green flag you'd put on two. Probably everybody pretty much thinks that. Now, if it came down late in the race you might just get gas and go, like we saw the '8' and the '15' do in the qualifying race, which if they had been hooked up together, that pack of cars probably would have never caught them.

"People are always going to think of different strategy to use. Now, whether or not the small fuel tank changes it - I don't know. It's going to take some of it out because you're going to have just make those pit stops for fuel."

WHAT ARE DRIVERS TRYING TO DO TODAY? "There is not a lot you can really do to your car. Some people might try different gears, tuning on their carburetor - things like that. There is not a lot you can do, really. You're just really fine-tuning your car

"As far as drafting with people, some times you can make a determination if your car drafts better with a different make of car."

WHAT SHOULD A FIRST-TIME VIEWER LOOK FOR IN TOMORROW'S RACE? "I've got a feeling you're going to see a lot of side by side racing. People that pass are going to be in the right lane that is moving. It's going to be just like we've seen basically all week. It's pretty difficult to pass. Four or five guys are going to get in a single-file lane and hug the inside and it's pretty hard to pass on the outside."

DO YOU HAVE TO GO WITH DALE EARNHARDT, JR., TOMORROW AS DOMINANT AS HE IS? "No. It just depends. There are a lot of different ways to look at it. If you're in a position where you can go with him or go with a fast car like that to improve your position, then you will. But, you'll also see, if that car gets out of line and nobody goes with him, they'll try to keep him out of line to get him farther back. Everybody pays attention to that, too, and realizes that if they can get him in the middle or something and get him back, he might not be as good in traffic as he is out front."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Derrike Cope , Terry Labonte , Bobby Allison , Cale Yarborough