Daytona Shootout: Bobby Labonte preview

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., Thursday, Feb 5, 2004 -- The following are Daytona 500 pre-race notes and quotes for Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing. DAYTONA 500 PRE-RACE NOTES: * Labonte will ...

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., Thursday, Feb 5, 2004 -- The following are Daytona 500 pre-race notes and quotes for Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing.

DAYTONA 500 PRE-RACE NOTES:

* Labonte will attempt to start his 12th Daytona 500. His best finish was second in 1998 to Dale Earnhardt. Also in 1998, Labonte earned his only Daytona 500 pole.

* Labonte has one top-five and two top-10 finishes in the Daytona 500.

* In 2003, Labonte started 22nd and finished 41st in the Daytona 500 after being involved in an accident on Lap 57. He completed 81 of the 109 laps in the rain-shortened event.

* The primary car for the Daytona 500 is No. 69, the car that was used by Labonte at the four superspeedway races in 2003. Labonte drove the car to a fifth-place finish in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July 2003. Car No. 69 spent an estimated 10-12 hours in the wind tunnel before being brought to Daytona. The back-up car is No. 89, a new car.

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BUD SHOOTOUT PRE-RACE NOTES:

* Labonte will start his ninth Bud Shootout. His best finish is third in 1999 and he has at total of one top-five and two top-10 finishes in the Bud Shootout.

* Labonte qualified for the Bud Shootout by winning Bud Poles in 2003 at Las Vegas, Texas and both Michigan races.

* The primary car for the Bud Shootout will be a new car, No. 89. The back-up car for the Shootout is car No. 72.

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DAYTONA 500 PRE-RACE QUOTES:

BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet; 2000 NASCAR Champion): "I'm excited about the 2004 season. 'Fatback' and I have a year under our belts and feel comfortable working together. The win at Homestead to close out the 2003 season gave us a lot of momentum for the off-season and we're hoping to carry that into the 2004 season. We improved on our 16th-place finish in points in 2002 by finishing eighth in 2003, so, hopefully, we'll be able to improve even more for 2004 and contend for our second championship. Obviously, the Daytona 500 is a big race and we'd like to start off the season by winning it. It would mean a lot to not only me, but everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing." (About the new points system): "It is what it is. We're still trying to win a championship, no matter what the system. We can talk about it all we want, but we're still going to go to Daytona, then race 35 more times, sit through a dinner in New York City in December and then come back to Daytona in 2005."

MICHAEL "FATBACK" MCSWAIN (Crew Chief, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet): "We're looking forward to a good year. We've had a year together and learned a lot of stuff together. We are not really addressing the points thing any differently than we were before. We want to win a championship no matter what points program we're using. It will change the way we look at our testing and what we're going to do toward the end of the year, but other than that, we'll handle it status quo, as always. We're adjusting to the new tires fairly well. Some of the new body rules are changing the way we look at things, but for the most part we're pretty happy with the way things are going so far." (About winning the season-finale at Homestead in Nov. 2003): "It is a good feeling because you know you didn't run bad in the final race of the season, but it's also in the past and so many things have changed, that it doesn't really have any bearing on the 2004 season."

J.D. GIBBS (President, Joe Gibbs Racing): (About Owner Joe Gibbs coaching the Washington Redskins): "When he went through the decision process, he came to me and came to some of our key guys here and met with us. I don't think much is going to change. We'll miss him at the track, and we won't have that safety net to bounce ideas off of during the week. But, he's only a phone call away and it's a 45-minute flight. From a technical standpoint and a performance standpoint, I think we're in as good as shape as ever. >From a sponsor standpoint, we'll benefit because we're part of the two biggest spectator sports in America, NASCAR and the NFL. We can have a tie-in there. Hopefully, it will be a benefit, whether it will be taking partners to games or training camp or using Joe in different ways. I think all around it will be a good year. Obviously, it feels good that he trusts us to carry on. It's a family business; we started it 12 years ago, and, hopefully, it will last for a long, long time. His coaching deal is a short-term deal in the big scheme of things, and he's going to come back here anyway. It won't take away from anything going on down here, and, in fact, hopefully, it will add things. Both sports will hopefully bring in new sponsors and partners here. We have a great group in place, as good as any in racing, with the crew chiefs, the drivers and Jimmy (Makar, vice president of racing)." (About the 2004 season and the new points system): "I think for our guys, it's a good thing, because we generally run well at the end of the year. But, at the same time, you've got to be consistent, and you can't have a lot of problems. I think the new tires are going to help Bobby (Labonte) and Tony (Stewart) out during the year. We're looking for big things from our guys; we've got a good group in place, good engines. I think if you're in 10th place going into the final race, it's great. If you're in first and you have a huge lead, it kind of stinks. But, it is what it is. I think it will definitely bring added exposure to the sport at the end of the year."

JIMMY MAKAR (Vice President of Racing): "I'm excited about what we've got going right now. We've got a year under our belts with Bobby (Labonte) and Michael (McSwain) learning each other and jelling. I saw improvements all through last year. Communication got better throughout the year. They went through some ups and downs, but bounced back and had some good races toward the end of the season. So, I think we're poised at having a good season without any bad luck, which they had quite a bit of that last season. That's something you really can't do a whole lot about. I think the potential is there for a very good season for the whole team. Not only are Michael and Bobby coming together, but I think the whole team is starting to jell. We rebuilt the whole road crew last year and those guys seem to be coming together as a group. It's one of those things were it becomes a close-knit team. That's what it takes to compete week in and week out to get the job done." (About the points system): "As much as I think about it, I have a hard time believing that you're going to change the way you race. I think you still have to go out and try to win every race and race well every week. I don't see you changing what you do. The only difference is that you may focus a little bit more on that 26th race as being as sort of the end of the season or the beginning of the second season. You want to be in the top 10 at that point in the season. That may be the only thing that changes in your thinking. But, I don't think you adjust the way you race every week. If anybody changes it may be the leader of the points at the end of that stretch. Where you typically start to protect and play a defensive type of mode, you may still work hard at putting people out of the range that are in the group of 400 points. Other than that, I don't think you'll see a lot of difference. We've talked about saving tests until the end of the year for those last 10 races, but the problem with that is going into a season with some aerodynamic changes and some tire changes, you really don't want to not be on top of that stuff at the beginning of the season. So, if you give up some testing thinking you're going to save it for that last 10, you may hurt yourself in the front 10. So, I don't think you're going to be able to save those tests, I think you're going to have to go out and make sure you're competitive early in the season. I don't think the majority of the teams are going to change the way they race."

-jgr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Labonte
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing