BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: YOU WERE REPORTED TO BE THE QUICKEST IN TESTING AT HOMESTEAD LAST NOVEMBER IN A MONTE CARLO...YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT...: "We stayed those two days and had a really good test with...
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
YOU WERE REPORTED TO BE THE QUICKEST IN TESTING AT HOMESTEAD LAST NOVEMBER IN A MONTE CARLO...YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT...: "We stayed those two days and had a really good test with the only car that we had built at the time. The car was fast off the truck. "Fatback" (crew chief Michael McSwain) seemed to gel right away. Of course, he had been there for a few weeks prior to that, so he had kind of gotten used to the program. We just tried things that we both had talked about trying. We just kind of worked together at that and made some good headway there. Obviously, with having a new race car on top of a new crew chief and some different thought processes, it was definitely a good confidence booster. I was excited, obviously, after the test was over. I was ready to get down here and skip the tests and just go racing. Usually, you want a few days off, but I was ready to go racing then. It was definitely a confidence booster, so when we got here this morning I was ready to go. I just feel really good about starting off, hopefully, on the right foot."
DO YOU THINK THE INCREASED AERO PARITY AMONG THE MANUFACTURERS WILL CUT DOWN SOME OF THE COMPLAINING WE'VE HEARD IN THE PAST, AND DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT THE POSITION YOU'RE IN - HAVING MADE THE SWITCH TO CHEVROLET? "I think we're in the right position that we need to be in right now. We had some great years with Pontiac. But, with the numbers (of Chevrolet teams), hopefully that will be good for us. They (NASCAR) do have a lot of [common] templates. But, I'm sure if one manufacturer is not as good as the other one - they're always going to want to be better. I don't think that is going to change. But, at least all the templates and all the measurements that they have and the 'commonness' about it should keep it to where - there isn't much you can do anymore. It's getting to that point. There might be some people that say stuff, but they probably won't be able to change a whole lot, either."
HOW IS LIFE WITH "FATBACK" SO FAR?: "Rather good. I'm enjoying it. We've talked quite a bit during the 'off-season' - from Homestead to now. We've talked quite a bit and kind of gotten a game plan together. I just feel comfortable with him talking to me in my ear when I'm headed to the racetrack, on the racetrack and communicating back and forth. He has driven some cars before. He's raced a little bit - some late models. He's built cars, so when I relay something back to him I think it pretty-well hits home. He kind of understands it a whole lot better, so that's good for us to talk about.
"So far, it's been real good. I'm really excited about it. I think he is pumped up. I think he is excited. I think he has confidence in me that we're going to go out there and run really good, and hopefully win races and win a championship."
HOW DOES THE CHEVROLET FEEL SO FAR?: "It feels good. We kind of got a late start this morning. We were changing things that I guess we didn't know about. "But, the car feels good. One car is a little bit better than the other one right now. It's just a typical Daytona/Talladega-type cars that I can't tell them much, but the computers and everything tells them everything else."
CAN YOU TELL MUCH DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PONTIAC AND THE CHEVROLET? "The car last year was pretty-much the oldest car out there, so we had to change body style anyway. If we were in a Pontiac today, would it be much different than the Chevrolet today? Probably not. But, changing from the Pontiac last year to the Chevrolet this year, there is some difference there. The year to change was this past season because we had to change body styles anyway. If we were changing from the Pontiac of today to the Chevrolet of today, there probably wouldn't be much difference. But, changing from the Pontiac of last year to the Chevrolet (of this year), there is quite a bit of difference.
"That's the big change that we've had to go through - just from last year's Pontiac to this year's Chevrolet."
WHAT THINGS DID YOU HAVE TO CHANGE THIS MORNING? "I'm really not sure exactly. I don't know if it was something that we didn't do right with the weight, but that is really all I heard. I was busy making sure the seats were right. We just wanted to get it right before we went on the racetrack. We didn't want to be wrong, like we probably came down here with. It's no big deal. We just wanted to make sure we were right when we got on the racetrack and not have to change it at lunchtime and get a false reading."
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THIS YEAR? "Win races and win the championship. That's pretty much the goal."
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DO TO TRY TO PSYCH-OUT ANY OTHER DRIVERS? "No, probably not. I don't think I do. If I do I don't know that I do, if that makes sense."
LAST YEAR JEFF BURTON SAID THAT EVERY VETERAN DRIVER WHO HAS HAD INPUT INTO THE SETUP OF HIS CAR WAS STRUGGLING. DO YOU THINK THAT WILL CHANGE THIS SEASON OR ARE YOU HAVING TO CHANGE WITH THE TIMES? "I think when the tires went from a softer tire to a harder tire like they are now, the setups have changed. I wasn't as willing to change. But, the younger guys, they didn't have the experience on the racetracks and spend the time with setups like we did over the past five years. For instance, when you have something that works good at Charlotte you don't want to change it a whole lot. You're slow to change. If I were to come in and didn't go through that I would say, 'I'll try anything.' That's the way I was five years before that, so that is part of it. As you get a little older you don't want to change as much. Will I get better at it? Sure. I'd better get better at it, or I won't be here long. My philosophy is that you've got to have an open mind.
"Bringing in Fatback - he has been around, but is still a new guy in some ways. He's done this for a long time, but yet he doesn't have a set notion that 'this spring is what you've got to run at Charlotte' and 'this spring is what you've got to run here.' Then, the engineers that we have and all the stuff we have - you've got to listen to those guys because they are the ones that are going to make changes for us that are going to help us out, too."
WILL THIS BE ANOTHER YEAR OF 'THE YOUNG GUNS' OR A YEAR OF 'THE VETERANS?' "That's hard to say. Everybody over 40 (years old) might win all the races this year or nobody over 35 might win. We never know that. Nobody knows that. We might have 25 winners. We might only have eight winners. You don't know that. Nobody knows that right now. It just happens that way. But, I know from my point of view, the big thing is the communication between the driver and the crew chief, and if you're willing to change you're willing to change with it to make a change."
WITH THE NEW BODY RULES THIS YEAR, DOES THAT KIND OF PUT EVERYBODY BACK TO SQUARE ONE? "Pretty much so. It goes back to the communication between the driver and crew chief. The window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller because everybody is in the same window. Now, to beat them, you've got to massage it a lot more than you used to."
DO YOU SEE NASCAR GOING BACK TO SOFTER TIRES? "I've just read that - what y'all guys have written. I've seen articles, but I haven't had too much conversation about it, other than they tested it last year. Obviously, we all knew that. But, I don't know what they've come up with that says, 'Hey, we're going to do this by July 1. We're going to go back to this' - cut the spoilers off, stuff like that. I think that all could happen, but we don't know when."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THAT HAPPEN? "I think that it would be better. When you can run half a race on four tires sometimes, it just doesn't seem right. Of course, then that goes back to me being kind of old school - I don't want to change things, either. But, it just doesn't seem like what I'm used to."
DOES TONY STEWART SEEM HAPPIER TO YOU NOW, AS COMPARED TO LAST YEAR? "I just saw him this morning and at the Christmas party. I've only seen him a couple times. I talked to him yesterday on the phone.
"I guess he is. I don't know if he has changed. He seemed happy this morning."
JERRY NADEAU, NO. 01 U.S. ARMY PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
ON HIS RECENT TRIP TO AFGHANISTAN TO VISIT U.S. TROOPS: "The trip was great. I had a great time. It was tough getting out there, for sure. I think it took us two days to get out there. It started out that we were going to fly private, and then all of a sudden we were doing commercial. We were sitting coach. It was a long trip - a real long trip.
"We got to Biska like two days after we left from Washington. We had long layovers. You were tired by the time you got there. But, then once you got there it was like you were wide awake. There was so much to gather, so much to see. I think the first three nights we were actually in Afghanistan, you basically didn't sleep. We were doing a lot of stuff. We were visiting a lot of troops in different bases, doing a lot of autograph sessions, speaking to the troops. Man, you talk about a fan base - I've never seen so many NASCAR fans out there. There are guys that had been there for the last seven, eight months.
"It was more of an honor to see them than it was for me to be there. It was neat to talk to them, shake their hands. I got to do a lot of neat things - drove tanks, we shot weapons - did some neat things. We went to bed late, was up really early - 4:30 or 5 o'clock, had some pictures with some Afghanistan people, which was neat.
"But overall, it was just a great experience. I'm glad to be back and I'm ready to go. I'm excited about being here with the Army. I'm looking forward to Daytona."
ARE YOU READY TO GO PHYSICALLY, AFTER BEING INJURED LATE LAST SEASON? "Yeah, I think I am. I feel great. The ribs are great. The right arm still hurts at times. I think a lot of it is because I've been working out a lot and it seems like it may not be totally healed. But, it's one of those things that I'm going to have to live with because it's got a little bit of a bump on my shoulder because I tore all the ligaments. The only way I can get it back normal is if I had an operation. But, from what I'm hearing, it is more or less better just to leave it alone and not go through the operation, so I'm going to try it for the year and see how it goes. If it does bother me during the year or whatever, then I'll do something. But, as far as right now, I feel great."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR NEW TEAM? "I feel great. I feel like this is probably the best opportunity I've ever had in Winston Cup. Working with Ryan Pemberton - we've got a lot of new guys on our team. The guys have been working really hard. Heck, when everybody was off Christmas time, our guys were working hard, building new cars. We're going to go test right after Daytona and go down to Vegas and test our downforce cars.
"I'm ecstatic. We've got Hendrick motors and Pontiac this year, and I'm looking to give Army a good run."
DID THE TROOPS GIVE YOU ANY IDEA IF WE WOULD BE AT WAR BY THE TIME THE DAYTONA 500 ARRIVES? "If I knew, I probably wouldn't tell you anyway - if we were going to go to war. All I can say is be proud you're American because we would get our ass kicked if we weren't. I think we are way prepared, if there is a situation.
"It looks like something may break out there in Kuwait soon. But, from what I saw - I spent two days in Kuwait - I was eight miles from Iraq and I was on the front line demonstrating a tank, so they're pretty-well relaxed. But, I'm sure when [President] Bush says, 'Let's go' - the party is on. But, they've got so much equipment. There is so much stuff there. There is the front line, they've got the guys in the middle - which are fives miles away - and they've got the guys in the back, so we're very well-equipped. I think our troops are very well-trained. I think every American should experience being there, seeing what these people do. It was incredible.
"My dad served in the Army. I think if I wasn't racing - with what I saw there - I think that would be a really cool career to go through. I think it teaches you a lot about life and I think it makes you strong as a person.
"It was, overall, a good experience. We weren't there to have fun. We were basically there to support the troops, but it turned out to be a fun deal. I had a good time and I'm glad I went."
WAS DRIVING A TANK FUN? "They handled pretty good - maybe a little bit better than the Cup cars. They've got good brakes."
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
ON THE DAY OVERALL: "Initially, we were hoping that we would have unloaded a little faster, just based on the success we had here last year. But, as the day went on we made huge gains. We made a lot of big gains and are very happy with the progress we made for our first shot with the car and working with it. Granted, this is a speedway, which is going to be a lot different than the majority of the races we have during the season. But, we found the sweet spot and the things that the car likes to respond to and are looking forward to the next couple of days of really working in those areas to perfect the car."
WHAT WERE YOUR EXPECTATIONS HEADING INTO TODAY? "To be honest with you, I didn't have any expectations of where we would be. We came down here last year cold turkey and set the world on fire, so in the back of my mind I was hoping and wishing that would happen again. But, looking at the things we were faced with with the new car, the first time dealing with the new body style, I didn't know what to expect. We started off slow and made some very big gains and I'm very optimistic for the next two days."