BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: ON THE BRICKYARD 400 "I'm really excited about coming back to the Brickyard. Of course, winning a race here is very incredible. Jeff [Gordon] has won three races (Brickyard 400s)...
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
ON THE BRICKYARD 400 "I'm really excited about coming back to the Brickyard. Of course, winning a race here is very incredible. Jeff [Gordon] has won three races (Brickyard 400s) now. Hopefully, we can come back here and be competitive enough this weekend to hopefully get another one. It really is an exciting race to win. You never really what the impact of a race is until after you win. Then, when you win one of this size, of this magnitude, it doesn't just stop on Monday. It keeps on going. It really is a very exciting race and I can't wait to get our car dialed in as fast as we can to be as competitive as we can come Sunday afternoon."
IS PIT STRATEGY MORE IMPORTANT HERE THAN ANYWHERE ELSE? "I'd have to say they are all pretty important nowadays. Heck, I've seen at Bristol, being 18th place in line, not pitting, come out and win the race. It is a premium here because they've got such long straightaways and flat corners that the aero is real important here and you want to have clean air obviously, over a lot of other places, maybe. It is the most premium place, I would say, if you are out front, have clean air and you can go fast and guys behind you can't pass you. It doesn't get any more premium than this and the rest of them just kind of fall into the same category sometimes."
ANY SURPRISES SO FAR THIS SEASON FOR YOU? "It probably didn't surprise me in a lot of ways, but it's not going like I would like it to be going for us, anyway. We'd like to be a little better than we are right now in points and competitiveness. But, the guys that have come on the scene that have run really good - the younger guys - it just seems like what we saw last year towards the end of the season, some of the guys that were getting momentum, it seems like they carried it on over to this year. Some things don't surprise me in some ways and have surprised me in a few ways. But, it's more our performance and a few other guys back there with us that I thought would have been a little bit better. But, in some ways, you could see it coming last year a little bit. We saw it towards the end of the year."
ON THE "GREENHOUSE" CAR "One thing that we've talked about at Joe Gibbs Racing is that Joe owned a funny car for a few years there and they had a flap on the roof. We saw that being instrumental sometimes with those guys that if they had a fire they could get out through the roof. That made us think about a hatch like the funny cars use now, right above the driver's head, that you could open up from the inside like you do the side window and flip it open and jump out. It would be in the case of 'emergency only' and not be used for anything else. That might be something that could be looked at later on, too. It is an issue that probably should be looked at more and more with the 'big guys' with as much safety equipment that we have in the cars nowadays."
ON THE SEASON SO FAR "It's obvious that we're frustrated at a lot of things and it's probably understandably so after the past two years of running really good, and then this year we just can't seem to do very good. But, I think we may have turned a little bit of a corner here lately. Hopefully, we've got some good things coming about. We've got some promising things. We just need to keep our head focused, work real hard and just make sure that we can get everything we can out of the rest of the season for next year.
"There is nothing we can really point to. We're not really sure how it got away from us as fast as it did. But, a lot of things have changed in this sport the past two years. The competition has changed, the way the cars are on the racetrack have changed, the tires have changed - it just slipped up by us. I think the year that we were concentrating on the championship was good for us, but it was also bad in one way that we weren't able to see what other guys were doing and pay attention to it because we needed to focus on what we were doing then. Of all the years that we had, that was probably the year that maybe should have been chasing it because we would have been trying different things and would have been better in 2001 and 2002. But, when you're in that hunt, you kind of get blinders on and you just focus on what you're just doing right then at that point in time and not anything else."
WHAT KINDS OF THINGS HAVE YOU SEEN THE PAST FEW WEEKS THAT HAVE MADE YOU MORE OPTIMISTIC? "Just our attitude of, 'Hey, we can't be working on the same thing we've been working on. We have to make some changes.
"We have to make some changes as to whether to make a right or a left. We've got to figure out something. We can't be going down the same road. We're not going to be here long if we do this.' We had to work real hard at that and had to change some ideas that we had going around. We kind of work in a small box sometimes and we have done that in the past. But, guys are not doing that anymore, so we have to do the same thing to get caught back up and then we'll figure out what we have to do to make our car better than their's."
HOW IS THE TEAM CHEMISTRY? "We still have good chemistry. It's just a matter of figuring it all out because it's definitely not easy. But, we've got to have ourselves in the right frame of mind to bring about the right chemistry because if we don't, it just doesn't work. The people are there. Everything is there. It's just a matter of flowing the right information out. Sometimes we don't flow it out because we get frustrated, too."
Note: Labonte also announced on friday that in cooperation with the Todd M. Beamer Foundation, Joe Gibbs Racing, Interstate Batteries and Action Performance are offering a unique tribute to the victims and heroes of the Sept. 11th tragedy. Labonte will field a red, white and blue version of his No. 18 Pontiac at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 23rd. All of the parties involved have pledged to donate 100 percent of royalties from the sales of related merchandise to the Beamer Foundation.
"Everybody can remember what they were doing last Sept. 11th. I know I do. It's been close to a year and my personal thought is that we don't remember it enough because what happened changed all of our lives. Now, we've kind of gotten back into the rut of, 'Our lives go on.' Well, you know what? It's still a day that we'll never forget. Nobody should ever take lightly of what could happen again in the future, if it ever does. We all need to remember that and thank God that we like in such a great country like we do.
"I know that Sept. 11th I drove 18 hours back from Kansas City. To drive all evening and all night and not see an airplane in the air, to stop every time for gas and not know what people are going to do and what they're going to say really is an eerie feeling. We wanted to get home with our families and make sure that we were there with them through such trying times, for everybody. Obviously, Todd [Beamer] on [Flight 93] -- the great American heroes that they are - took care of what could have been a lot worse situation and sacrificed their lives for a lot of other people. It's just a great situation that we're able to do this. We're so excited that we're part of it and we can give every bit of it to a great foundation like the Todd Beamer Foundation."