Labonte, Loomis, Petty - Dodge Friday interview

BOBBY LABONTE (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge Charger) COMMENT ON CREW CHIEF LEAVING "I think it's something that we all agreed was going to happen. We felt like he wanted to go where he's going. We came together on it with Doug (Yates). We...

BOBBY LABONTE (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge Charger)

COMMENT ON CREW CHIEF LEAVING "I think it's something that we all agreed was going to happen. We felt like he wanted to go where he's going. We came together on it with Doug (Yates). We said, 'it's going to be better for you guys. We don't need to have somebody here who's going to ultimately go there in a short period of time.' We made a conscious effort to do what was good for everybody. It wasn't a decision to say that we needed to make a change right away for XYZ.

"We needed to make a change because Todd has done a great job. Todd came in here and led this team to some good runs and he's going to go home. In the team meeting it was great because he was appreciative of what we let him do here, and we were appreciative of what he did here. We felt good we left on those terms and there were no hard feelings."

WAS IT DISAPPOINTING THAT TODD HELPED TURNED THINGS AROUND AND NOW HE'S GONE? "When we signed our deal at Phoenix, Todd was available yet. When he became available of the choices we had I think he was the obviously choice for us. There was a chance he might not become available. We feel fortunate that he was available, yet at the same time when I came here he wasn't in the picture because he wasn't away from Robert Yates Racing. Yes, he was very vital to getting us going, but at the same time if things had worked out differently there he wouldn't have been able to, so we would have been on a different page, anyway."

WHAT KIND OF CREW CHIEF DO YOU NEED NOW? "We want somebody for the long haul, not a short-term thing. We've got a great group of people. We've got a great base. We just need to find the right person that will grow with the organization. We told the guys the other day we hated to see Todd leave, but we'd like to make him feel like after about three weeks that he'd wish he hadn't left. We have to make the right decisions to move forward, and we don't necessarily have to move forward quickly on some things, but we have to move forward very smart on the decisions we make here at the racetrack. We have to bring the right cars to the track with the right setup before we get here. I think we can do that.

"We just have to be real conscious because the guy who was doing it isn't there to make the decisions, but we have a great group of people that are there in place that were helping out. With Greg Steadman and Robbie over him helping make the decisions, too, I don't feel like we're going to miss a beat. I kinda hate it we're coming to Watkins Glen because it's not my best place, but at the same time we've got to make sure we make the right decisions until we find a fulltime replacement."


ROBBIE LOOMS (Vice President of Competition Petty Enterprises)

"My focus will change with the involvement in the team. We'll definitely put a lot of focus on the Cheerios Dodge. Everyone at Petty Enterprises has stepped up to the plate. We had a meeting the other day and I said, 'change is a great thing in our sport. Every time you have change it's a great opportunity. It's going to be great to rise up to the occasion.' That's one thing about change. You have two things you can do. I know by looking at the excitement in these guys eyes we just have to go out there and excel. I told them to look at the bright side, we weren't taking over a team that had won four or five races this season. It's sad for us that we haven't won four or five races this season, but we can still go out there and win some races. Bobby made a commitment to Petty Enterprises, and we want to make sure he gets the Cheerios Dodge in victory lane."

WHY DID TODD TELL YOU HE WAS LEAVING? "It was one of those things. I think Yates is about in the shape that Petty Enterprises was in last year. It was something they had to do to solidify the situation. I think Todd is going there to try to be the foundation for Yates. I really like Doug Yates, and I think they're going to start the rebuilding process again. With a couple of young drivers I think it makes even more sense to have a guy like Todd in the organization."

WERE YOU SURPRISED HE LEFT? "No, not really. We sat down and talked and I said, 'I knew a month ago we were going to have this conversation because I've been there. You spent nine years at a place that was really good to you and you hate to see it hurting and you want to see it get back on top.' There's a period you go through where you're glad the car isn't doing as good as it was when you were there. Then there's a period where it really hurts they're not having the success. I know it was really killing Todd. It's hard to let go of a car when you get on the business side as much as I've got into it, but last week we announced the General Mills sponsorship had been extended and that solidified a little future for us on the financial side. Now we've got to work on it and get some things solidified on the business side for Kyle's car. The bottom line is we need to perform better and get our engineers stronger. We're making progress. I look at it and Jeff Gordon hasn't taken a step back, and I hope we won't, either. It's gotten so big now that one person doesn't really steer the ship. It takes a community effort. We've created a group of generals at Petty Enterprises. You've just got to move the pieces around to find the model you need."

WILL YOU BE MORE OF A CREW CHIEF NOW WITH THE 43? "Because Bobby is such a talented driver I put him right there in the group with Jeff Gordon. If you ever listen to him on the radio, he takes a lot of responsibility with the car like Jeff did. It makes him real enjoyable to work with, so I'll help him out any way I can. I'm sure I'll be on the radio a lot more than I was."


KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Petty Enterprises Dodge Charger)

COMMENT ON RECENT CHARITY RIDE "It's cool to be here at Watkins Glen because some of the guys that went on the ride were some of the officials and car owners in the Grand American division. I haven't seen them since we got back from the ride. They kinda peeled off and went down to Birmingham on the off week. It was a good ride. The weather was good, not as nice as it is here. It got a little warm a couple of days. We got into some rain, some lightning, some storms. Other than that it was a good week. We stopped at the Shriners' burn center in Cincinnati. That was pretty special to go there and see those kids. A couple of those kids had been to camp. Almost every city we went to we ran into some kids that had been to camp. We had a really good year. I don't know how much money we raised yet. We're still trying to get our stuff together, but it'll probably be within the $1.3-$1.5 million range. I don't know what we're going to do next year. I'm tired of going west to east. Maybe we'll go south to north or north to south. Maybe we'll try something different next year."

COMMENT ON TODD PARROTT LEAVING "I said when we hired the whole group I couldn't continue to do the things I was doing. That would undermine Robbie's authority. There can only be one boss and one person leading the charge and running the ship. Todd's issues were some of the same issues Robbie had when he was at Hendrick's. Todd in a lot of ways feels connected to Robert Yates Racing. I think he has a long history there, and you can't fault a guy for wanting to go back. Does it set us back? For the short term I'm going to be honest and say it does. That's just from a Kyle Petty standpoint, from the driver of the other car. Being able to look at what Todd brought to the table, I think it's made us stronger. To lose somebody like that catches you a little bit. I would have liked to seen it go through the full course of the year. At the same time it gives us an opportunity to figure out where we're at and put somebody in there so we don't have to start cold turkey at Daytona next year."

COMMENT ON WINNING AND RUNNING AT WATKINS GLEN "We ran good that day (1992 when he won). We had a really good car. We came back the next year or the year after that and had a really good car and I ended up wrecking through the esses. I think I took Earnhardt out and some other stuff, so it was a pretty big wreck. I was leading the race then when we wrecked. I enjoy the road courses. I enjoy going to Sears Point and Watkins Glen. I enjoy running the Great American Division. I didn't have an opportunity to run this race, but I wish I did because it's fun. I enjoy that part of it. I wish we ran more of 'em. I hope some day when I quit what I'm doing now going to that division and maybe running some more of them over there. We're run pretty good here in the past. We've had good races, and we've had bad races. Track position is just so important in this sport right now. It was last week at Indianapolis, and it is on road courses. It is on short tracks. A lot of what goes on on the race track really doesn't make as much difference how the race is called, where you pit, when you pit, things like that, so that means qualifying is a little more important at a race like this."

IS IT NICE TO BE HERE WITHOUT RAIN TIRES? "I like the rain tires. I enjoy it. I'm not any good at it, but I enjoy it. It's fun. It's so much different than anything we do. It's nice to be at Watkins Glen and not have fog in the morning or rain. This is perfect weather. You couldn't ask for anything better, and it takes all that out of the equation."

COMPARE THE ROAD COURSES "We ran Riverside a long time ago and it was a different kind of road course. We came to Watkins Glen and it had some technical corners, but it was not a very technical race track. You could run a short track car back in those days. Now everybody has specific road course cars. Sears Point was a very technical road course. They changed it and I think they ruined the racetrack, but that's one man's opinion. It's not as good a road course as Watkins Glen is now I don't think. I don't enjoy going to Sears Point as much as I enjoy coming here. I still enjoy going there because I still enjoy going to road courses, but when they took the carousel out and some of the passing zones you end up with two people running over each other and knocking each other out of the way and that's what we run into each year when we go out there. There's not a lot of places to pass here, but it's stayed true to itself all the years we've been running it. I wish we ran a road courses where there were more passing zones, but this is a fast track for us so it's more like a superspeedway of road courses if you look at it like that."

IS YOUR TEAM IMPROVING? "I think so, especially the 43 car. I think both cars have run a lot better this year. Situations beyond our control sometimes have taken us out of a race. I got in a wreck with Carl (Edwards) early in the race at Daytona and we got a 39th place finish. I think if you look at it this year I've got a multitude of finishes from 40th-43rd being in wrecks. My best finish at Pocono this year I think is 42nd (actually it's 40th), so there's two right there. At least this year we're running better and things are happening to us beyond our control. Last year with both cars I think we put ourselves in bad situations and didn't run as good on top of that, so we were our own worst enemy. I think this year we're not our own worst enemy. I don't think there is one next step. We've just got to keep improving. Are we 100 percent? No. We were probably 80-85 percent when they came. We're probably 90 percent now. We're still a little bit off. Ten percent off here is huge. You can't afford to be half a percent off. There is momentum there. There's not a huge amount, but there is momentum there."

-credit: dodge

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Kyle Petty , Robert Yates
Teams Yates Racing