Las Vegas: GM - Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 interview

BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT SUNDAY'S RACE? "I'm really excited about it. We unloaded off the truck Friday and the car was really pretty fast to begin with. We had some good speed out...


HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT SUNDAY'S RACE? "I'm really excited about it. We unloaded off the truck Friday and the car was really pretty fast to begin with. We had some good speed out of it. It all goes back to our test out here that we had last month and the guys at the shop that put this car together. They built a good little race car."

YOUR TEAM WENT THROUGH A RE-ORGANIZATION OF SORTS OVER THE WINTER...HOW ARE THINGS COMING ALONG? "They're going really good. I know it's still pretty early, but we're getting to know each other better. We've got a ways to go as far as learning each other a whole lot more. I know that's going to continue.

"But, I'm really excited about the way our off-season testing has gone. Everywhere we've been we've been comfortable, we've had good speed, we've had good long runs and stuff like that. And, the first three weeks of the season have been really good, so I'm really glad things are as positive as they are right now. Things just keep looking up."

YOU'VE WON POLES BEFORE, BUT WAS LAST NIGHT'S RUN MORE GRATIFYING THAN OTHERS, KNOWING YOUR TEAM HAS RE-ORGANIZED AND TAKE A NEW DIRECTION IN 2003? "It was in a lot of ways. For all the hard work that went into the off-season with new race cars and a re-organization of sorts, it really is a cool deal that we were able to do that this early in the season. It's been a lot of races since I won a pole - all the way back to May of 2001 - so, it feels good to be able to go out and go fast again. That gives us a lot of confidence to go into the racetrack every weekend."

DOES A WIN SUNDAY SEEM WELL WITHIN REACH, KNOWING YOU HAVE RUN BETTER THAN YOUR FINISHES IN THE FIRST TWO RACES THIS YEAR? "Yeah, I think so, especially after last weekend. Daytona was kind of wash because anything can happen there and usually does for me lately, anyway. But, here is more of a handling racetrack and the driver has more of an impact and can do more to make it work or not work. Last weekend, even though we didn't finish as well as we would have liked to, we ran really good. That makes you feel more confident going into other racetracks that we can go to and work on our car, and make a difference and drive it.

"I think we can be really good - not just tomorrow's race, but the races that are upcoming."

ODDS-MAKERS HAD YOUR TEAM AT 20-TO-1 TO WIN ON SUNDAY BEFORE YESTERDAY...DID THAT UPSET YOU AT ALL? "No. That's immaterial to me, as far as I consider it. What you do on the racetrack is what you need to do and not worry about what you read or hear. I think if you go out on the racetrack and do what you're paid to do and work hard and be as successful as you can and give 100 percent, then the rest of it is really immaterial. That didn't give me any more motivation than what you already have on yourself."


HOW GRATIFYING WAS LAST NIGHT'S POLE IN JUST YOUR THIRD RACE AS CREW CHIEF? "It was pretty gratifying - as gratifying as a pole can be. They're cool and everything, but it will be better to perform on Sunday."


"So far we've run pretty good everywhere we've been, but we've had some bad luck here and there. We had a good car at Daytona. We had some back luck there, but qualified in the top 10. We had a good car at Rockingham, qualified in the top 10 and really had a car good enough to win. Then, we came out here and qualified in the top 10 again.

"As long as we've got a shot to win the race, then we're all doing our job. We've just got to get this '18' car back to where it's competitive every week."

WHAT DO YOU SEE IN BOBBY RIGHT NOW...DO YOU SEE A MORE CONFIDENT RACE CAR DRIVER? "Well, I didn't know him back in '99 and 2000, but I'd say that's pretty much like he is right now. He's ready to go. He's on top of his game. His confidence is back and he's really doing a good job driving a race car."

ODDS-MAKERS HAD YOUR TEAM AT 20-TO-1 TO WIN ON SUNDAY BEFORE YESTERDAY...DID THAT UPSET YOU AT ALL? "No. How much do those guys know? You look at it and it bounces around all the time. I think it's down to 10-to-1 this morning.

"I don't really care what anybody else says. I just want to do what we've got to do, win some races and see how it all shakes out at the end of the year."


HOW GRATIFYING WAS LAST NIGHT'S POLE, AFTER DECIDING TO RE-ORGANIZE TOWARD THE END OF LAST YEAR? "It was extremely gratifying. We've struggled for a little while here with the '18' team since we won the championship in 2000. It seemed like we couldn't do anything to get it turned around. Emotionally it was draining and everybody started not to believe in themselves and each other. When you start that spiral down it's a scary thing because usually it doesn't stop until it hits bottom. To be able to make some decisions toward the end of last year and make some changes and see how things have developed and grown - the synergy and the energy and the chemistry that's come together; to be able to refresh that whole organization - it's neat to see. It looks like it's starting to come around. Obviously, it's way too early to tell just exactly what, but our tests have been good and the energy that the guys have is good. I would call us 'cautiously optimistic.' But, I really personally believe that it's got all the potential in the world of being exactly what we need it to be to jumpstart everybody's mental state to where they start believing in themselves again and in each other.

"We've got great race cars. The Monte Carlo has tested wonderfully since we started developing stuff back last year. It seems like the car just always performs better than what expected because it's new. It's got a lot of potential there. That is obviously adding to the mix, too."

YOUR POSITION WAS CREATED TO TAKE CARE OF SOME ADDITIONAL DETAILS AND IT SEEMS LIKE THOSE THINGS ARE BEING HANDLED...IS THAT THE WAY YOU SEE IT?) "Michael and I were talking about that earlier today. So many times you see people re-organize and you just replace one for one. Crew chief leaves; crew chief comes in. Driver leaves; driver comes in. You take some crew members out and you put some crew members in. You really don't gain anything. You've just changed the mix a little bit. You changed the personality a little bit and sometimes that works.

"In our situation, we actually added to our program. I'm still here. I'm not a crew chief, but I'm still here. Instead of just replacing crew chief for crew chief, we've actually gained another set of eyes, another mind, another thought. I think that is where we're really going to help ourselves the most. I feel like that is going to be a big part of where I can help get the team forward and develop a better race car and have those guys (the crew chiefs) be able to come to the racetrack with a fresher mind and better pieces to race with."

WOULD A WIN TOMORROW BE A CRITICAL TURNING POINT FOR THE TEAM? "I think the critical thing is to run well - to be up front, to lead some of the race, to be in contention. That is the more important thing right now. If we can do that and just show some solid running, it will be wonderful. That will be another step in the right direction. A win is going to be extra. It's really going to be the icing on the cake if we can win a race. I'm not so worried about winning one race here or there. To me, we need that consistency week in and week out. That's what we're looking for. We're not looking for a 'splash' win every now and again. I would like to see the team be confident every week when they come to the racetrack that they can run up front, that they're going to have good race cars. That is the important thing."

WHAT IS LIKE TO WALK OUT ON PIT ROAD RACE MORNINGS NOW, SINCE YOU'RE NO LONGER IN THE ROLE OF CREW CHIEF? "It stinks. It absolutely stinks. That is the hardest thing I've done, so far. Everything else has been fun and has been a little bit like what I'm used to. But come Sunday when it's race-time and you walk out on pit road and you don't have a team; when you're a man without a team, you're just sitting out there by yourself - that's hard. That's the hardest thing I've done so far and I think it's going to take a little bit of time to get used to that fact that I'm not going to have that 'in the game' feeling that I've had for so many years. I just have to learn to get over that and figure out exactly how I can help both teams.

"Once the race starts it's a little better in that I can go back and forth between the teams and talk to Greg (Zipadelli) and Michael and try to help them out, watching each car and seeing trends and listening to other teams. That is where I'm going to be able to help them on race day, when I'm here."

-gm racing-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing