BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: ON THE FACT THAT NO ONE DRIVER NEAR THE TOP OF THE STANDINGS THIS YEAR HAS REALLY BEEN ABLE TO BREAK AWAY... "I noticed the same thing. I wish I was up there with them. It...
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
ON THE FACT THAT NO ONE DRIVER NEAR THE TOP OF THE STANDINGS THIS YEAR HAS REALLY BEEN ABLE TO BREAK AWAY...
"I noticed the same thing. I wish I was up there with them. It just seems like nobody has been able to put together a lot of top fives and top 10s in a row without a problem some how, some way. In 2000 when we won the championship we had a lot of top fives, a lot of top 10s, no DNFs and everything. It seems like since then it's been kind of hard to do for these guys - obviously not for these guys, but for everybody. It is frustrating on our part because we haven't been able to do any kind of good to speak of, as far getting up there and being able to compete for a championship like we did in 2000. But, it looks like at the same time, if we got a little bit better we might could be up there. If we were better at some places, I guess the problems that we have been having wouldn't look so bad this year as compared to other years."
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON TO IMPROVE?
"I think we've just isolated some of the problems that we had early in the year. We realized that we've got a couple cars that feel better to me than a few other cars and I like driving them, so we're kind of wearing those out right now. Our engines have gotten better. They weren't bad, but anymore it's so close that being just a little bit better makes a big difference, so Mark [Cronquist] and all the guys at the shop have been doing that and working that real hard. The setups have changed over the past couple of years and we've had to change with it. We seem like we're getting a little bit better acclimated with that. Just feeling comfortable in some race cars over some other ones. If you don't feel good in it and you don't run good, it kind of gets your frustrated. We've moved a couple people inside the shop. We've just moved a couple people around. We brought one of our engineers out of the shop to the racetrack that we haven't had in a little bit over a year and just moved some personnel around just a little bit. Little things like that make a big difference. I guess we need to keep making little changes like that - tweaking on it all the time to keep up with what is happening in the sport today. The guys that are going fast - we've got to catch back up with them. In order to do that, we probably have to tweak some more."
HOW MUCH TESTING HAVE YOU DONE IN THE CHEVROLET?
"We've already tested the 2003 Chevrolet once and I think we're fixing to test it again this coming week. We've tested the 2003 Pontiac already a couple times and basically it is the same sheet metal except for the nose and tail. That kind of helps us out a little bit, also. We've kind of tested already. We've already had a trip to Talladega where we ran this year's car and next year's car, too, to get an idea to see which way to start with it. That's going along pretty good. We're probably a little bit further ahead. The new templates are out. We've still got some changes to make on them. We're not just right, but I think we'll be testing them here before long - a little bit more - with the new rules."
WITH THE TIME IT TAKES TO GET ACCLIMATED TO NEW NASCAR RULES, HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE YOU TO GET COMFORTABLE WITH THE NEW BODY LOCATION RULE?) "We're going to work real hard, I know that. But, everybody is probably going to have to make some changes in their cars and probably setups are going to have to change. Obviously, the past two years the setups have changed and the bodies didn't change, so we're going to have to make sure that we're on top of the game when it comes down to the changes that are there in front of us with the location of the bodies and the new templates that are restricting some things - areas that you could do something in before that you can't do anything in now. We're just going to have put all the right people in the right places to make sure we have a good, solid race car come every Sunday. We have to work really hard at that and get the right people at it and make sure that we learn from our mistakes in the past if those mistakes will have an affect on what we're doing next year."
WILL YOU HAVE TO TEST MORE?
"God, I hope not. We're wore out right now. I just think we have to do the right thing right. We have to do the right thing with everything that we've got and just make sure we do it right to begin with and not be a year late on something. Then, we'll end up doing like we're doing right now - testing a lot, trying to get caught back up."
IS THE BODY LOCATION RULE CHANGE MORE OF A TEAM ISSUE THAN IT IS A ISDRIVER SUE?
"You have to get the car right before you get to the racetrack. Then, I get in it and I've got to give my feedback, too. But, hopefully what we can do is we've got to work at it together. The feedback that I give them is going to help them out. The body issues, also - you've got templates to work with. If you can't go around them or you can't do anything with it - I mean, that's what we've got to work with. Then, a lot of times we have to tune the race car to me with shocks, sway bars and other adjustments, also, so we'll to do that as much as we can."
ON YOUR MENTAL APPROACH FOR THE LAST PART OF THIS SEASON
"We've been running better the last few weeks and we're just looking forward to getting out of here the rest of the season, trying to do the best we can, trying to get a jumpstart on next year - trying to build some confidence into the rest of the season and for next year. That is kind of our approach right now. We're not in a position in points to be battling for a championship, so we're in a position right now to say, 'Hey, let's battle for everything. Let's try to get a win. Let's try to do this, let's try to do that. Let's make some advancements. Let's not make little changes. We need to make bigger changes.' We need to try to get confidence in our race team and myself and Jimmy [Makar] and everybody there to end the year on a high note so we can start next year."
IS IT TOUGH TO WIN A FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP OR IS IT TOUGHER TO TRY TO WIN ANOTHER ONE?
"It's all tough. It took us several years to win the first one. We haven't spent that much time trying to win the second one, yet, so we're still working at it. But, it is tough to defend. I think what happened was in 1999 we were really good.
"Then, in 2000 we were still pretty good, but not quite as good and other people were catching up and we were too busy worrying about the championship at that point in time. Then what we did is we were concentrating on that and other people were making changes and we weren't abreast of it and we kind of lost tune of it. Then, in 2001 we thought we were going to be good, but we weren't as good as we thought. We thought, 'Well, we're just having a little bad luck.' I think the sport changed enough where we just weren't keeping up with it probably because of 2000, so it's hard to repeat, I think."
SINCE YOUR TEAMMATE TONY STEWART IS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP HUNT, ARE YOU TRYING MORE RADICAL STUFF FOR THE TEAM THIS YEAR OR FOR NEXT YEAR?) "We're trying to do things just trying to keep up, but it's not like, 'Here, you be the test pilot today. Here, you try this.' We're trying things just because. It's no different than it has been, communication-wise, and no different week-in and week-out. That's no different. I'm not the test pilot - 'Here, you try this for next year's race. Here, you try this for next week's race.' That's not how it is. We're just trying things for today's race or for tomorrow's race and then for the next week and then for the next week. We're not a test pilot out there to try something different. We're trying stuff all the time."
DO YOU SEE THE POINTS BATTLE STAYING THIS WAY - AS CLOSE AS IT IS - FOR NEXT YEAR?
"Next year I'd like to see a repeat of what I did in 2000 because it looks like if you did that you'd be alright - not have any DNFs and finish in the top 10 a lot. But really, if I was in the middle of it I could tell you a lot more, but right now it is exciting to watch."
WILL HAVING A SOFTER TIRE COMPOUND HERE THIS TIME HELP YOU?
"I don't know yet. It's funny, though. I said that (that he was struggling with the softer compound, in general) a lot and was convinced of it a lot. But, we took a different car to Michigan the second race and it was like old times, in a way, and it was on the same tire. A lot of times a different race car makes you feel a lot different, too. I can't really say that I can put the full blame on it (the tire compound), but a softer tire here yesterday didn't help me out none, so it's not like the tire was the main key. It changes your feel on a race car a lot, which makes me think you've got to change your race car more than changing the feel of the driver. We'll have to wait and see. Yesterday wasn't really much of an indication of what it's going to be."
HOW MUCH SYMPATHY DO YOU HAVE FOR TONY STEWART'S SITUATION RIGHT NOW AND HOW MUCH DO YOU WORRY ABOUT SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENING TO YOU?
"I definitely hate what is happening to Tony. A lot of it is uncalled for - that's for sure. But, at the same time, I don't really worry about being the next target of some type. I just don't think about it like that. I hadn't looked at it like that. I just go through the day like a normal day, like I have done for quite a few years now - do your job, do your business and keep going. But, Tony is going through a rough time right now. We're definitely thinking about that. I hate that situation has happened. It got blown out or proportion and that's not right.
"But, at the same time, I'm not thinking about myself, as far as, 'Hey, could I be the next target?' Nothing like that. That's not going through my mind. I don't know if it's going through anybody else's either, but it's not going through mine."
DO YOU ENJOY COMING TO DOVER?
"Yeah. Traditionally, it's been pretty good. Unfortunately, it hasn't been good lately, but I guess that means traditions are made to be broken - I'm not sure. We've missed on the setup here lately, but I do like coming here, though. It's a neat racetrack for us. I've liked it. I looked at some stats the other day. I think the first time I came here in 1990 in a Busch car I finished third in like my first race here, basically. It's always been a fun track for me to run on. I do enjoy it. We just haven't run as good here of late, but we'll fix that."
CAN YOU DRAW ON HAVING WON HERE BEFORE?
"When we won back here in '99, things were a lot different then that they are today, so it's hard to draw off of that. It's just like the last race here. Jimmie Johnson won, but you can't think about that because it's a lot different today than it was last race here even. '99 was then and this is now. We can draw off of some things, but that was a fuel mileage deal. That's not something in the back of our minds because we can't draw off of any of that."
DO YOU KEEP TO SAME MENTAL ATTITUDE NO MATTER HOW YOU'RE RUNNING?
"You get frustrated if you're not running good and that's kind of normal, I guess. I don't want to sit here being happy running 17th in points. But, at the same time I understand that we've got some work to do and we've got to work it out. We can't just go in there and start getting too crazy about things. But, everything is fine. We're testing a lot. We're trying a lot of different things, working really hard at it and that is about the biggest thing we've got to do - and try to get better. Other than that, everything else is fine. We're just trying our best to get our race team better for our sponsors. That's the biggest thing and then we'll work on the rest of it after that."
YOU SAID IF YOU HAD BEEN BETTER AT SOME PLACES THIS YEAR THE SEASON WOULD HAVE BEEN A LITTLE DIFFERENT...
"Obviously, if we had had some better finishes other places our confidence level would have been up. We had some tracks - the first race at Michigan, Tony and I were terrible - just terrible. This race here last spring - for a place that traditionally we run good, we were two laps down basically at one time. We got our laps back - not by racing back, but just by luck and Jimmie Johnson gave me a lap back. Obviously, places that you go to that you normally run good and you don't, you clarify that, 'We're junk here. We need to get better.' When you have finishes of 20th, it doesn't help you out in points. It doesn't help you out in a lot of things, so races that you don't do good in you've got to get better."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE RULES GOING INTO TALLADEGA?
"I know that the (rules) that we have in the race cars are basically the same that we had there in the spring. The big change this time is the fuel cells, I think are 13 gallons instead of 22 gallons, so we'll be pitting more often. We went down there and tested the other day.
"It seems like we've been running in a certain position all the restrictor plate races the past two years and have been caught up in something. Whether we're running fifth or 25th, it seems like we get caught up in it, just like we're a magnet and we just get sucked up in it. But, that is part of it. I went two years and never put a scratch on a car at a restrictor plate race, so obviously you can be on top of it or you can be on the bottom of it. We're going to go back down there in a couple weeks and see if we can get back on top and run really good. If there are any circumstances that happen, we don't want to be involved, but that takes you out of a finish that would be better. But, we look forward to getting down there because last year, I think we were leading the race on the last lap. That's one thing we can hope for."