Pennzoil 400 Advance November 9, 1999 BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "Mathematically, we're not out of it (the championship), but I tell you what, it would be hard for me to believe that Dale Jarrett is...
Pennzoil 400 Advance November 9, 1999
BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix):
"Mathematically, we're not out of it (the championship), but I tell you what, it would be hard for me to believe that Dale Jarrett is going to finish worse than eighth or ninth at Homestead. But we're going to take our Interstate Pontiac racing team down to Miami with expectations to do real well and we'd sure like to come away, even if we don't win the championship, we sure would like to win the inaugural event down there."
HOW WAS YOUR TEST THERE? "It was pretty good. We made a couple of long runs and a few qualifying runs, but there were a few cars that were a little quicker than us. We felt pretty comfortable with our new Grand Prix, but we're still trying to work out a few bugs. We feel like when we go back we should be competitive on a flat track like we have been the rest of the season until now."
TALK ABOUT THE SEASON'S FINAL TWO EVENTS. "There's a lot of difference there (between the two tracks). Not even the same thought process goes into those two race tracks. They're so totally different. It would be like going to Martinsville and then Daytona. They are mile-and-a-halves, but Miami is so flat and Atlanta with the degree of banking it is, it's just two different race cars, two different setups, not even the same thought process. Atlanta has been a great race track for us. We've got a Grand Prix we've already run a couple of times this year that's proved to be really good, so hopefully when we get down there it will be an opportunity for us to be as good as we have been down there in the past. That would be great."
WHAT TRACK IS MIAMI LIKE? "It's got a lot of different characteristics and it's kind of like New Hampshire in a way. It's got real long corners, not like anywhere else we go. It might take a little bit of Phoenix, the characteristic of turn three, just exaggerated two or three times. Loudon, to a certain extent, because you've got long straightaways. There are sharp corners, but not as sharp as Loudon. We'd have to mix it up a little bit as far as different race tracks that may be similar to it. Loudon is probably the closest. Chances are you won't be working on race setup too much (Thursday) because the race track will change throughout the weekend and there will be more rubber on the race track as the Busch Grand National cars run on it and all the practice we'll have on Friday and Saturday, plus the 200-lap Busch race. Thursday's practice will be more or less getting used to the race track and getting some setups in for your qualifying on Friday. I don't think you'll see too many people making 40-lap runs on Thursday. Just to get used to the race track some people may do that, or just trying to get comfortable there. It's a tough race track, I think. It will all get us acclimated to the race track sooner than if we just showed up Friday morning."
TALK ABOUT YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS THIS SEASON. "I know it's been great. We've had a great season. Our Interstate Batteries Pontiac team has done a great job and we've had some great races. We've won four races. I think we beat everything that we anticipated throughout the year, as far as goals that we set. It's one of those deals where we've just been real excited about it. We can't complain about anything. From here on out, it's just a bonus. To be in contention for a Winston Cup championship this late in the race, we're in second-place. I haven't been this close before so you can pretty much imagine I'm excited about it."
HAS THE TWO-CAR TEAM BEEN A BIG BENEFIT? "I think we were moving this way to begin with. I don't know if we would have been this far ahead with a two-car team. There have been a lot of times where we've been able to take advantage of the two-car team. Each weekend we do, it's just that it may be in different areas whether it's setups, whether it's engines, whether it's a gear, whether it's shocks. The fact that when we get into the race track we're probably, when we go to a race track the second time and the first time we had two cars that had certain setups in them, then we take two sets of notes instead of one to the next race. A lot of times it's helped us out. There's countless times that it's helped us and in different ways. I don't know if we would have gotten to this step, this quick, with a single-car team, that's for sure."
ARE THERE THINGS YOU CAN IMPROVE UPON NEXT YEAR SO YOU WON'T ENCOUNTER SUCH A BIG POINTS DEFICIT FROM FIRST TO SECOND? "I think that there are always changes with NASCAR racing with rules and bodies and even when Goodyear brings a different tire to the race track, which changes your setup from one year to the next or one race to the next. We'll look back this winter and say, 'Now here's a race track we didn't run as well at.' We've only got seven tests, really four tests to go and choose from, so we'll have to go take that and try and make those tracks better. We can't help things that happen that are out of our control. I feel like even though we're going to end up somewhere in the top-five in points this year, we'll still find where we were at fault this year for not finishing as good as we should have, and hopefully, we'll improve on that. It's not like we're guaranteed anything else. We'll keep working on everything just like we have been. We'll make sure Daytona is good and Charlotte is good and Atlanta is good, places we've run good at already. We can't lose sight of that."
HOW BIG A SETBACK WOULD IT BE LOSING FIVE OR YOUR BEST CREWMEN LIKE JEFF GORDON WILL NEXT YEAR? "I think it would take a little time (to recover). You might get five people in there that are new that might gel real quickly and things click for them. Or you might get five where you might have to change two or three around before you get it to click for you. You just never know. I guess it could go either way. Chances are, it's going to take a little time."
JARRETT HAS LOST SOME CLOSE WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLES. NOW YOU'RE IN THAT ROLE. DOES THAT GIVE YOU CONFIDENCE FOR THE NEXT FEW UPCOMING SEASONS? "Yeah. Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett both have been in the top-five or six the last seven or eight years. Dale later than Mark, probably. It doesn't bother me at all as far as that goes, because I feel like I've learned a lot personally. As a team, I think we've learned a lot to hopefully maintain our position here for years to come. Of course it's going to fluctuate some. It might go up. It might go down. Hopefully, we'll be as competitive as we've been this year and know the goals that we have to get there. I hope that we can maintain that. It's not all that bad for our first year to be in the top-five in points, to be where we're at today because we're just now getting there, you might say. I don't know (if he buys into the theory you have to lose a championship to win one). Check with Juan Montoya. He didn't lose one did he? He didn't buy into it."
TALK ABOUT DALE JARRETT'S SEASON. "I think it just reflects on a great race team and the years of experience he has at this level in finishing second, third, fourth and fifth in points the past four or five years. Every weekend they're competitive, and if they're not quite as competitive, they know how to get competitive. Dale is a great racer and Todd Parrott and those guys at Robert Yates Racing have prepared great race cars for years. They're doing like we're doing. They're building each year and getting a touch better. This year they've gotten to that level where they're the best week in and week out."
YOU AND TONY RANK 1-2 IN MILES COMPETED THIS SEASON. THAT HAS TO SAY A LOT ABOUT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ADDING A TEAMMATE TO THE JOE GIBBS FOLD. "It does. It says a lot, too, about the teamwork of the people here at the shop. Mechanical failures are far and few between. We don't have that many mechanical failures. It's a tribute to the guys back at the shop preparing race cars that that statistic is where it's at."
WHAT HAS MOST SURPRISED YOU ABOUT TONY STEWART? "I think that his being able to adapt to different race cars means that he has talent there that a lot of people don't. I know I wouldn't have (it). The fact that he's got a great feel for a race car is one of those things you always want. He has that. Also the fact that, the way I look at it, he doesn't have any bad habits in Winston Cup racing. I've got bad habits. I'll walk away from a race car thinking it's not that fast, but it sure feels comfortable. I may think it can be faster, but I may be too stubborn to try something else. That's probably helped. If I came into the sport today and hadn't raced Winston Cup yet, I might not have as many bad habits, either. If I came in like he did, maybe I wouldn't have some habits to go along with it. I'm not saying they're bad habits. I'm just saying as far as gaining a tenth of a second somewhere it may be a little bit harder."
HOW OFTEN DOES HE COME TO YOU FOR ADVICE? "I think it's more of a case of a per-race basis. Sometimes we don't need for me to tell him what he needs. He knows what he needs to do. He doesn't need me to tell him. At the same time, if we're working out problems with our race cars, we'll do that. Sometimes we don't have to worry about it as much. Some races it's more, some races it's less. There are no times I can remember saying, 'Hey, patience here is more of a key than anything else.' We just kind of go racing and whenever one of us might need some assistance then we're there to help."