NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference GM Racing Communications September 16, 2003 This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Terry Labonte, two-time NASCAR Winston Cup Champion and driver of the No. 5 Kellogg's / got milk? Chevrolet...
NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference
GM Racing Communications
September 16, 2003
This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Terry Labonte, two-time NASCAR Winston Cup Champion and driver of the No. 5 Kellogg's / got milk? Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Jim Long.
The series moves to Dover International Speedway next weekend for the MBNA America 400, Round Southern 500, Round 28 of 36 points-paying races on the 2003 circuit. Labonte is currently in 9th place in the point standings. His historic victory at Darlington three weeks ago was his first win since 1999. He is poised to set another milestone this weekend by becoming only the second active Winston Cup driver - and only the fourth overall - to start 50 races at Dover. That start will be the 773rd of his NASCAR Winston Cup career.
Q&A's WITH TERRY LABONTE:
WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT YOUR RESURGENCE AND YOUR TEAM'S RESURGENCE OVER THE PAST YEAR? "I feel like our team is much better now than it was a year ago. Jim Long came on board at the beginning of last season and took over as crew chief and began the rebuilding process. This year we seem to have really turned the corner and gotten much more consistent and competitive. We finally were able to get back to Victory Lane at Darlington. We came from somewhere around 31st into the top 10 in points this season. It's been a lot of hard work by Jim and the Kellogg's / got milk? team. They've just done a really good job of getting our team turned around for us."
ON MAKING HIS 50TH START AT DOVER "That's a lot of races at Dover. It's been a pretty good track for us sometimes over the years. I'm looking forward to this weekend especially since our team has been running so well. I think we're actually going to take the car we won with at Darlington which seems to be a pretty good car for us."
SINCE YOU STARTED IN WINSTON CUP RACING, WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE? "It has changed an awful lot over the years. I can remember going to race tracks where we didn't even have 15 or 20,000 fans. Everything about it has changed (including) the radio coverage and television coverage. When I started, only a few of the races were televised. I think the first (Daytona) 500 that was live was in 1979. It's changed a lot. The technology on the cars has changed. The teams have changed. The equipment has changed. When I started we had a team with probably only six people on it and we ran 30 races. Now, you've got to have 75 people to run 36 races."
WHAT ABOUT THE EXPECTATIONS OF A DRIVER TODAY COMPARED TO WHEN YOU STARTED? "That's a great question. I think the first time I ever made any appearances was in 1983 for a sponsor, which was Budweiser at the time. They were pretty aggressive compared to a lot of other sponsors in the sport. In 1984, our sponsor was Piedmont Airlines and we won the championship. In 1985, I remember I made three appearances for a sponsor. That was all. Today, you can make three appearances a week for your sponsors just because you have more sponsors involved in the sport today. So it's changed a lot in that regard too. You have sponsors today that get really involved in not only promoting their product and their team, but the entire sport."
WHEN YOU LOOK AROUND AT EVERYTHING THAT'S GOING ON DURING DRIVER INTRODUCTIONS, CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW THIS SPORT HAS CHANGED? "You know it's really funny because I know a lot of younger guys in our sport - not only drivers, but crew members - and they have no idea where our sport used to be and the things that used to take place. There weren't the big crowds. The teams didn't have airplanes. The crews drove back and forth to the majority of the races. We didn't have engineers. We didn't have laptop computers in the transporters. It's just changed so much. I would think it would be hard to come into the sport today if somebody told you how it used to be. We used to leave in the middle of the night and time it so that we'd get to the race track when the garage opened. So we'd leave at two or three in the morning and drive. That's how we did it. We saved one night's motel room.
"It's just really different today. The money is so much different in how much it costs to run a race team today compared to back then. I had an owner who didn't even care if he had a sponsor. He didn't really need one. But you don't see that today. You have to have sponsors because it costs so much more to race. When I first started I never even heard of a wind tunnel. I didn't know what a wind tunnel was. Today, if you have a car that hasn't been in the wind tunnel, you've got something wrong. There's something wrong with your team."
IS IT FRUSTRATING THAT YOU'VE NEVER WON AT DOVER AND DO YOU TARGET A RACE TRACK WHERE YOU'VE NEVER WON? "Not really. You approach every race track the same. You do the best you can. You try to take the best equipment you can. You work as hard as you can during practice and getting ready for qualifying and for the race. Back when we used to run 500-mile events at Dover, we had some good runs there. We came close to winning. A 500-mile event there always seemed to take its toll on a lot of people. I can remember losing engines late in the race and probably losing a couple of opportunities to win. But, that's just part of it. You just keep going back and keep trying. We had a pretty good run there the first race (June) and hopefully we can do a little bit better this time."
ON BRIAN FRANCE ASSUMING CONTROL OF NASCAR "I'm sure Brian will do a good job. He's got some good people around him and that's the key. That's the key to anything. He's got Mike Helton and some other folks there that have done a great job. I'm sure he'll continue his role as far as things that he does. But it's a good opportunity for Brian. Bill France Jr. and been there for a long time. He has spent many years getting the sport to where it is today. I'm sure that Brian's phone will ring every now and then with some advice, but I'm sure he'll do fine."
HOW DO WE KEEP THE COSTS OF THIS SPORT UNDER CONTROL AND IS IT GOING TO BECOME TOO EXPENSIVE FOR THE SPONSORS? "Well, it's probably approaching that now. It's a little bit tougher to get deals put together than it used to be. Today you'll see the cars with different paint jobs with different sponsors involved at different events. That seems to be a trend that's happening because one sponsor can't spend the whole budget on that car. So they have to divide it up a little bit more and you get more sponsors involved than you used to. I don't know how you control it. It has increased a little bit every year. The competition drives it up. Everybody wants to beat the next guy with more equipment better people and more money. It's definitely pretty expensive."
WHAT, IF ANYTHING, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE CHANGE IN THE SCHEDULE? "This 20-race stretch is a bit long and I think it's tough on the crews and everybody. It would be nice to have an off-weekend in there. It would also be nice to have one late in the year in case there was a problem such as a hurricane so you would have an off-weekend to fall back on. But there are so many neat tracks we go to and so many places that want races, it's going to be hard to cut the schedule back. So it's probably something we have to live with. But it's a pretty tough schedule. It's tougher than it used to be."
IN LIGHT OF WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED TO DALE JARRETT LAST WEEKEND, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE A REVISION IN THE RACING BACK TO THE FLAG RULE TO AVOID ANY PROBLEMS? "I've always thought that wasn't a very good rule - racing back to the green. I think we've got the only racing series in the world that does that. We've been very lucky over the years that we haven't had a serious problem. But that was a good example of what could have been a serious problem. The leader slowed down and decided not to race back and then the guy running second or third decided he wanted to race the guys back. It creates a bit of a problem. It's probably something that needs to be addressed."
WHEN YOU LOOKED AT THE TAPE, WAS IT SCARY TO SEE WHAT MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED? "No question. That was a very dangerous situation right there."
REGARDING JEFF GORDON ACCIDENTALLY HITTING A COUPLE OF CREW MEMBERS ON PIT ROAD, SHOULD THERE BE A RULE TO KEEP THAT FROM HAPPENING? "That was a perfect example of how accidents can happen. NASCAR's done a great job on the pit road rules to try and make pit road safer as far as speeds and things like that and where you have to slow down coming in. But it still can be dangerous. They were really lucky that nobody was seriously injured."
DID YOUR WIN AT DARLINGTON MAKE YOU FEEL MORE RELAXED? "Anytime you can win, it takes a lot of pressure off you. It's pressure that you put on yourself anyway. It was nice for us to get that win behind us because it had been a long time since we'd been to Victory Lane. But nobody remembers the races in the past few years where if things had gone just a little bit different, you could have won too. But that's just the way it is I guess. You just keep going. I was just really thrilled that we could win the race there in Darlington. I said earlier in the year that it would surprise me more if we didn't win than if we did. It won't surprise me if we win another race this year as good as our team is right now."
HAVE YOU PLANNED OUT AN EXIT STRATEGY FOR WHEN YOU DECIDE TO RETIRE? "I think I've got it in my mind exactly what I want to do. And when the appropriate time comes to make that announcement, we will. I still enjoy doing it. I still love the sport. The best part of it is at the race track and running the races. I don't have a good answer for you. But I've thought about it. But I can tell you this: you can count on one hand how many more years I'm going to race. But I haven't really decided exactly how much longer I want to race. It's a tough decision that everybody has to go through. You try to do what's right for you and for your team."
WITH THE YOUNG GUYS COMING INTO THE SPORT BEING SO DIFFERENT TODAY, WOULD THAT BE ONE THING THAT WOULD DRIVE YOU OUT THE DOOR? "I really don't know that they are that different. I don't really see that. You look back at the sport and to me it's kind of the same really. The faces change a lot. Every year you can look back and read old newspaper articles about all the young guys coming in. This is nothing new. You get a lot of new faces that come in and some of them stay around for a while and some of them don't."
WHEN YOU DO DECIDE TO LEAVE, WILL YOU STAY IN RACING BY BECOMING AN OWNER OR SOMETHNG LIKE THAT? "I'm sure I'll be involved somehow. I'm not sure exactly what, but I'm sure I will. I don't think I want to be a real Winston Cup owner."
CAN YOU ADDRESS THE CHANGES ON THE CARS FOR TALLADEGA AND WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS AS TO HOW THE RACE WILL DIFFER FROM THE SPRING EVENT? "As far as I know, I think there's a little bit bigger restrictor plate and a little bit bigger spoiler. I don't really know what the reasons are for that or what that will do. I don't know."
DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE MORE HORSEPOWER DOWN THE STRAIGHTAWAY AND BETTER ABILITY TO PASS? "I don't know. We had bigger plates on there a few years ago when they had all that stuff on the top of the cars and they ended up having to put a smaller plate back on them. I haven't done any testing so I guess we'll have to wait and see what it does when we get there."
HAS YOUR TEAMMATE, JEFF GORDON, SET THE STANDARDS TOO HIGH FOR HIMSELF?) "It is so difficult to stay at that level. You don't see anybody that's been able to do that. It's not one thing or one person. It's just tough for an entire team to stay there and keep doing that. You've got 42 other teams shooting at you all the time. And it's difficult. They're still having a good year. Jeff is 6th in points. They're a threat to win more races than they've won and I'm sure they're going to continue to be a threat until the end of the year. But anytime you're in the top 10 in points and have been to Victory Lane, it's a pretty good year by today's standards. It's not as good as what they were accustomed to a few years ago, but it's still awful good."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT TALLADEGA? DO YOU DREAD IT OR LOOK FORWARD TO IT? "It's not a place that you really look forward to going to. But it's a place where we've had some really good runs. We've won there a couple of times. We seem to do pretty well in the restrictor plate races. We've got a pretty good combination as far as our engine goes. Our cars are usually good. We just go there and do the best we can. It's not a place where you sit back and just can't wait to go to. I understand why we have restrictor plate races. But I don't look forward to them."
WHAT FACTORS GO INTO YOUR DECISION ABOUT WHEN TO RETIRE? "I can tell you that one of them was winning at Darlington. That's going to have a factor in it. If we can continue to be in the top 10 in points, that would have a factor in it. Whether or not we can keep the whole team together and the prospects there. It's just a lot of things. I've got in my mind what I want to do. It's something I have not decided."
DO YOU TALK ABOUT THIS WITH OTHER DRIVERS WHO CAME INTO THE SPORT AT THE SAME TIME YOU DID? "No, I haven't. They never talk to me about it. I guess it's something that nobody wants to talk about. But it's something that is going to face all of us. That's just the way it is."
Q&A's WITH JIM LONG:
IS YOUR TEAM FACING THE BEST PART OF THE SEASON? "We've been getting better and better all year. I don't think we hit our peak at Darlington when we won and I'm not sure we've hit our peak yet. We've just got some momentum going. The pit stops are good, Terry is doing a real good job, the motor room is doing a good job and everything is just coming together."
WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF THE NO. 5 TEAM FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR? "Our main goal - above and beyond winning - is being in the top 10 in points at the end of the year. That's our main focus is to stay right where we are if not improve upon it. Along the way, if we happen to win another one, that would be good too."
CAN YOU ADDRESS THE CHANGES ON THE CARS FOR TALLADEGA AND WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS AS TO HOW THE RACE WILL DIFFER FROM THE SPRING EVENT? "It's hard to say as far as the race and strategy goes. The speed will change a little bit. It appears it's going to be a little faster than it was. It's hard to say at this time. Small adjustments and we're there."
WHAT DID YOU INHERIT WHEN YOU TOOK OVER AS CREW CHIEF? "This is a good race team. Gary (DeHart) did a great job of hiring personnel. They're a very talented bunch of people. I just think we got off on the aero. It wasn't where it needed to be. We changed a few things on the chassis. It wasn't just one particular thing. It was a lot of little things. It took a while. We were headed in the right direction last year. About this time of the year we went down the wrong path. So when we started in 2003, we re-evaluated and we went down that path. So far, so good."
WHAT DID YOU CHANGE? "Set-ups. Aero, balance, front to rear - and we were pretty much out-thinking ourselves. Since then we've made changes in our set-up and our procedures and aero. Our aero has improved tremendously in the balance of the cars. We really struggled. We only had one or two cars last year that had good aero balance front to rear. That hurt us because it always put us in a bind if we hurt that car a little bit, it took it out of the loop and then we were racing a car that wasn't as good as our best stuff. Now, we have six, seven or eight cars that are of equal value. We have a lot to choose from this year."
HOW CAN WE KEEP THE COSTS OF RACING DOWN? "It all seems to cycle the way the economy is going and how many sponsors are out there. I've been in it long enough to see the ups and downs of it. It definitely costs a lot of money to run one of these race teams and be competitive at it. I leave it up to the front office."
WHAT DID THE WIN AT DARLINGTON DO FOR YOU AND THE TEAM AND DID IT TAKE A WHILE FOR YOU AND TERRY TO GAIN CONFIDENCE IN EACH OTHER? "In a lot of ways, Terry and I are kind of alike. I don't go out there and seek attention. If we're doing well, it comes to us. It took a while to figure out what to do and for us to get used to each other and seeing what the potential was in the guys on the team. The momentum has been building up all year. We can see we're improving. We'll have a hiccup now and then and we try not to let it happen again. When we won at Darlington, everybody was happy and upbeat. But it was there before we won and it continuing to be there. When the chips are down, we make the most of it. We did that at Richmond when we qualified 32nd and came back to finish in the top 10. And we got behind last Sunday and we came back in the top 10. Unfortunately we ran out of gas but we were in a position to capitalize on it."
WHEN YOUR GAMEPLAN FOR A CERTAIN RACE ISN'T WORKING OUT, DO YOU HAVE ANOTHER GAMEPLAN OR DO YOU JUST GET CREATIVE? "Actually, it's a little bit of both. You have to come off the hip so much during the race and you never know if you're car is going to be good in the beginning. You hope it is, but you constantly have to adjust to either maintain your track position or create track position. It depends on how your car is running. If you have a car that's running really bad, you have to fix the car to get it to run good. If you have a car that's running good and you just need track position, you're options are open a little more. I think it's very rare when a crew chief goes into a race and it turns out like he planned it on Saturday night."