JOHNNY BENSON, NO. 10 VALVOLINE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: ARE YOU EXCITED TO GET GOING AGAIN? "Oh, absolutely. I'm looking forward to the test. With the new rules package, it's going to be interesting to see what goes on. I'm really looking forward...
JOHNNY BENSON, NO. 10 VALVOLINE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
ARE YOU EXCITED TO GET GOING AGAIN?
"Oh, absolutely. I'm looking forward to the test. With the new rules package, it's going to be interesting to see what goes on. I'm really looking forward to doing some drafting. Hopefully we'll spend one of the days down here doing some drafting. I think that will be good for everybody. Outside that, we've got some other tests that we're going to do before the season. I'm really looking forward to those because you get the driver involved a little bit more in those and I can have a little more input.
I'm just excited. I'm excited about the year 2002. There are a lot of good things going on and hopefully it will be a good year for the Valvoline Pontiac."
WITH THE RULES PACKAGE AS IT IS RIGHT NOW, DO YOU FEEL YOU CAN BE
COMPETITIVE AT DAYTONA?
"We feel like we're going to be competitive. Since I've been in this Pontiac, we've been really competitive on the speedways, so I'm always excited about that part of our program. With the new rules it will be a little bit more single-file and two-wide as opposed to two-wide and three-wide. It's going to spread it out a little bit and it's going to have some effect, but all-in-all, you're still going to have a great race here. I don't think that is going to change. We'll know more as Speed Weeks gets going - as they run the Bud Shootout and as we run the '125s.' It will give us a better idea what you're going to see in the Daytona 500.
I hope that they don't sit there and tweak the rules every time that we turn around. But, at the same time, they're going to do what they have to do and they're going to try to make it as equal as possible. Hopefully, there just won't be too many changes as we go."
YOU HAVE THE SAME CORE GROUP OF TEAM MEMBERS RETURNING THIS YEAR...
"Our main core group on this Valvoline Pontiac is the same that it's been since I started there [prior to the 2000 season], which is a really good thing. Our group seems to be pretty strong. It's a close-knit group and it's worked really well. I'm real proud of the guys. We've got some goals that we want to accomplish - things we haven't done, yet. But outside, they are just a great group of guys. They work extremely hard. They want to win as bad as I do and I think that at times and on some teams, that's hard to find. They're enthused about the season and I know that I am."
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST THING THIS TEAM NEEDS TO IMPROVE ON THIS YEAR?
"If you really look at it, you've got to be better everywhere, just because it's a year later. You have to make sure that you keep up with the times. We need to get better everywhere. I need to get better as a driver, we need to be better as a team, we need better pit stops - but none of those are new things. We always work on those things. I think the guys can be proud of what they accomplished last year, but I know they are not going to be happy if we don't do a lot better than that this year. And that is a feeling that I like. We finished 11th last year and we should be extremely happy with that. We had a good season. But they felt the same way that I did. We didn't accomplish some of our goals, so we're going to make sure that we do that this year. That is what makes this group so nice to be around."
WHAT ARE SOME OF THOSE GOALS?
"The goal is to finish in the top six in points and win some races. Those are the same goals we had last year basically and we need to work hard at trying to accomplish that."
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
ON PREPARING FOR DAYTONA
"In the past couple years with the way the rules were, I thought qualifying probably wasn't all that important, so we didn't spend all-out effort for two laps of qualifying to get a good starting spot. Obviously, you could see what would happen with the rules in the past. You could start last and be leading in 10 laps if you wanted to; it just depended on if you got the right breaks or not. So, it may have looked like we struggled in qualifying, but I think we've still raced pretty good. We've been able to get to the front and stay there when the time came. We didn't push the issue at the beginning of the race, a lot of times, but we could still go to the front at the end of the race if it worked out for us.
This year there are different rules and hopefully our thought process has gone back to focusing more on qualifying and putting more importance on that this year as compared to the past couple of years. We'll just see how it goes. We're encouraged. We're excited about it. There are new rules and new things that we've got to try. We've got a new body on this car. It's good to come in here, get some good practice in and see what we've got."
DO YOU THINK DRIVERS WILL BE MORE PROTECTIVE OF THEIR POSITION ON-TRACK
WITH THESE RULES?
"I don't know. If you go back to two years ago, I don't think it was that bad in a lot of ways. Your car will only handle so good or so bad, so you have to do what it will do for you. You can't hold somebody up if they're going to get by you anyway. I don't think it will be much different than it was two years ago, as compared to last year, for instance."
ON THE SAFETY MEASURES THAT HAVE BEEN IMPLEMENTED IN THE PAST YEAR?
"The safety measures that they've taken are great. The things that NASCAR has done and the way they're going about it is appropriate. We're all learning in this thing. It's not like anybody has the best answer or a great answer. I think everybody is doing it the right way. Everybody is listening to each other and talking about it and trying to do the steps in the right direction."
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES WITH REGARD TO POSSIBLE RULES CHANGES FOR THE PONTIAC
IN A DOWNFORCE CONFIGURATION?
"We don't want anything more than just what everybody else has. We don't want less and we don't want more. We just want the same, at least.
When they take cars to the wind tunnel, that is the measuring device that we have to go with. If that's as accurate as we're going to get, then let's go by that. If our car doesn't have the downforce in the front or the back, and you are going to have common templates and you're supposed to have common cars and you want to have a level playing field, then just do it. Do anything."
Do whatever it takes. If that is what you're going to use for comparing them, then just compare them. Don't use anything else. Don't use the race team aspect or the driver aspect or the engine aspect or whatever."
DO YOU LOOK AT LAST YEAR AS DISAPPOINTING OR FRUSTRATING?
"I think last year was a little bit frustrating at the beginning. But, when reality went like, 'Gee whiz, I don't think we're going to run as good as we did last year.' Once that sank in, then I think we got going again and started running better. I wouldn't say it was disappointment. We would have liked to have done what we did the year before, but what we did was [last year] was an accomplishment for us because we learned a lot - the things that we didn't do in 2001 that we should have be doing like we did in 2000. It was a learning year. It was not like our first year, but it was definitely a learning year. I'm not disappointed for the fact that I think we pulled out of it pretty good from where we started to come back with a sixth place finish in points and to win a couple races. I was encouraged by that fact."
IS THERE MOMENTUM THAT YOU CAN CARRY OVER FROM THAT?
"I think so. We had a great second half of the season. I think our off-season - as short as it is - has been productive from everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. Our enthusiasm is as high as it's ever been and I look forward to starting the season off. If we get started off on the right foot, that will be great."
DO YOU HAVE TO PACE YOURSELF DURING A LONG SEASON TO MAKE A CHAMPIONSHIP
"You try to pace yourself. You know that the season is this long and you know that going into it. You definitely have to pace yourself, but your focus-level ahs to be there week-in and week-out. You've got to think about that, you've got to concentrate on that, you've got to make sure that you don't lose focus throughout the season. You can't let three bad races ruin your year. I think that goes back to what we learned last year. I think we started off bad, but yet we didn't give up or lose focus on what we were doing. We regained our focus and regained our composure.
I think the biggest part is just definitely pacing yourself and not burning yourself towards the end of the season."