Jimmy Makar packs a ''bullseye'' for Atlanta race

DETROIT (March 7, 2000) - When Jimmy Makar and the Interstate Batteries Grand Prix team packs for this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup event in Atlanta, they will be forced to carry something else with it that it is not used to carrying. That item...

DETROIT (March 7, 2000) - When Jimmy Makar and the Interstate Batteries Grand Prix team packs for this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup event in Atlanta, they will be forced to carry something else with it that it is not used to carrying. That item is a bull's-eye that the team will have affixed to its back from the moment practice begins on Friday until the checkered flag drops on Sunday.

During the past 10 Atlanta outings, Makar and his driver Bobby Labonte have combined for four wins, two seconds and seven top-five finishes to establish near dominance at the ultra-fast, 1.5-mile quad-oval. And although it does apply extra pressure, Makar says the key is ignoring the expectations as the team works through a regular race weekend and continues its pursuit of a NASCAR Winston Cup championship.

Jimmy Makar: "We are probably a little bit in wonderment of it as a lot of people are. We don't do anything special or different or unique that we don't do every other week when we go to every other racetrack on the circuit. I think probably it's a combination of being able to make the right decisions at the right time as the track has changed and has called for changes in set-up. We've been real fortunate to stay on top of that. I think the other key thing is the drivers we've had there like the place and get around the racetrack very well. That's a very important part of the deal. It's kind of a tricky racetrack. We're running extremely fast there - as fast as we run at Daytona. If a guy is not comfortable with that it doesn't matter what you do to your race car, it's going to be hard to be competitive. I just think there are a lot of little aspects to that racetrack that suit our driver and our team."

(Why Bobby Labonte is good there) "Bobby likes speed. There are certain people that can race comfortably at 150 miles an hour, and that's fine. But you get a little bit faster and it takes a little nerve and a different mindset. Ever since Bobby has been driving for us he has never been a person that shies away from speed. Any place we go fast, he enjoys. The Charlottes, the Atlantas, Texas, Michigan - he really seems to be comfortable in those situations, and I think there is a lot to that. If you are comfortable in a situation you can adapt and you can excel."

(How does it feel to have a target on the team's back): "I've felt that way every time we've gone there lately. You can let yourself become pre-occupied with the notion and kind of focus on it, ordo it the way we try to approach everything. Every day is new, every challenge is new and when we go to Atlanta we are going to be just another car. Just because we've won there before doesn't mean that this time we are going to be as successful, as strong, as competitive as we were last time. You've got to keep digging for more every time we go back. I know a lot of people will be looking and that kind of comes with the territory. But that is something to be expected if you do have a given amount of success in any one area."

(the popularity of NASCAR): "We've talked about it a little bit. Personally I was a little disappointed in the size of the crowd at Rockingham. But I don't think it is necessarily a good place to judge from, though. Typically that has not been a sellout crowd anyway. But then again, you have to wonder with the TV market growing the way it is, did a lot of people just decide to stay home and watch the race on TV? Just because the grandstands weren't full doesn't mean that a lot of people weren't watching. It's hard for me to say because I don't study those things. Now if we see problems at Atlanta and that trend continues for three or four races in a row, it might be cause for a little bit of attention. But I certainly don't think the show is suffering at all. We still have lead changes, different strategies being played out and good racing on the racetrack, so I don't think the show is bad."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte