Martinsville: Bobby Labonte - Dodge interview

BOBBY LABONTE (No. 43 Betty Crocker/Cheerios Dodge Charger) "It's always great to come to Martinsville, especially because I stay at home every night and that's even better. That's pretty neat when you can sleep in your own bed. People always...

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

"It's always great to come to Martinsville, especially because I stay at home every night and that's even better. That's pretty neat when you can sleep in your own bed. People always ask me what my favorite track is, and I never say Martinsville, and I'm not sure the reason why. I should because it's really the easiest place for me to get to and the easiest place to get home from and actually run pretty good here sometimes. I've had a great career here. I started racing Late Models here actually.

"I'll tell you a quick story I ran a Late Model Sportsman race here before it was the Busch Series a long time ago. I was leading the qualifying race and ran out of brakes. I didn't really run out of brakes. I didn't know you had to pump up the brakes. It was kind of a misfortune and then we got in a fight. It was a bad deal. Overall, it was pretty cool. It was a long time ago. I raced against legends like Gene Glover and Tommy Houston and a lot of guys, Morgan Shepherd. It's been pretty neat and to be able to win the Busch Series championship here and a Cup race and the Busch race, it's been all around pretty good, not as good as some but better than others. It's always a treat to come here. I always look forward to it. I've usually been able to have a good, top-10 car and every now and then we can get in the top five and contend for a win, too."

COMMENT ON YOUR FIFTH-PLACE FINISH AT BRISTOL "It's been a lot of hard work, and the guys have done a great job. We've got a lot of great things coming. We had a good car at Atlanta and had a problem. Daytona was a good race for us. A lot of guys that finished good at Daytona had a decent run at Fontana and they're still living off the points. We struggled to finish good at Fontana and had problems at Daytona running in the top 15. Our points are not indicative of what I think we've done on the racetrack. We should have been a little further up in the points if we could have had a few breaks here and there. After Atlanta giving us confidence to go to Bristol and making the 500 laps and finishing the race and getting what we needed, a good, solid run out of it, it was a shot in the arm for everybody. We're going to be like the stock market. We're going to be up and down, but it's not from a lack of effort. It'll be from a lack of fortunes you might have on the racetrack. Hopefully we can overcome some of it and we can reap the benefits from the good weekends like last weekend and we can learn from the weekends we had before that. Hopefully we can stay a little bit more consistent and get the stock market where it's a little bit more level."

IS THIS YOUR BEST SHOT TO WIN SO FAR THIS SEASON? "I'd like to think we have the best shot here, but I'm not going to say that today. I'll feel a little bit better about it Sunday afternoon if we do it. Atlanta, I thought we had a great shot at Atlanta, too. The car runs good here. I like come here running, so all we've got to do is put it all together. You've got to put 42 other guys out there with us, too. They're going to be trying to win, too. It feels good to come here, but we know we can't just sit here and give 95 percent and expect it all. We've got to give it 120 percent and then you might not even get that."

COMMENT ON WORKING TRAFFIC AT MARTINSVILLE "It's always a challenge here. When they came up with the Lucky Dog thing, it's hard because you get so many cars on the lead lap. When you restart, you might restart 20th but you're really 40th or something. The Lucky Dog has created a little bit of a problem. Sometimes you get guys a lap down and that's come back on you. As always, you've got to be really careful here. On a short run, 20 laps, 40 laps, everybody runs nearly the same speed. After 50 laps things start to happen and cars will start giving up over some guys that don't give up as much. That's usually about the time somebody spins somebody out and you have a caution and you've got to start the cycle all over again. It's kind of hard that way traffic wise. You've just got to be patient about it. Like last weekend, I looked at the board and it was lap 190. I thought, 'we've been out here a long time.' The same thing is going to happen here Sunday. You're going to be at lap 190 and you're going to be like 'my gosh, we've been out here forever.' You've just got to be patient about it and try not to tear off the fenders. Traffic is constantly, constantly trying to dodge it or they're trying to dodge you sometimes if you're the guy who needs to be dodged."

COMMENT ON SLOWER CARS "A slower car can slow you down a tenth or two a lap. Every position and every tenth or two is so important. Luckily I don't have any paybacks this weekend, so that's good for me, but you don't want to be the recipient of somebody else's payback and get involved in their stuff. You really have to be careful of that, but the key is trying to make that move when you can. We race on the racetrack and they tell you in the drivers' meeting not to race on pit road, but you have to race on pit road because you can't race on the racetrack sometimes. You have to do all you can do everywhere you can to get to the point where you can make those passes as clean as possible without jeopardizing yourself. I think Schrader got in trouble last week. He got a tire cut down for racing someone that much (an inch) too close. Then it ruined his day, so you've got to be really careful there."

WHAT IS THE KEY TO GETTING AROUND MARTINSVILLE SPEEDWAY? "You take all of it into effect the first few laps. You've got to have good brakes to out brake people or to make sure they don't out brake you. The chassis has got to work. You've got to get your motor tuned right so you can go down that straightaway. Then as the race goes on, your motor is less of an issue. You've got to be turning in the center. If you get your car too tight, you're done. It's hard. If you're too tight in the center, you're too loose off. Then you're really done if that happens. Then at that point in time if you do that, you're going to wear out your brakes trying to make your car handle better. You're going to be junk anyway. All of them play a factor for part of the race. Then as the race goes on, if your car loses the handle, you can still have a better motor, you can still have a better brake, but you're going to probably get outrun because they're going to pass you anyway. You let off the brakes early, the longer you run you let off and don't use as much brake to get the car to roll through the center. You kind of have to play that so in the long run you've got everything working for you."

HOW MUCH PAYBACK DO YOU THINK YOU'LL SEE SUNDAY? "I don't know. I'm not going to say. You've seen it happen before. We might run 500 laps under green. You never know. It's always a big talk here more than it is out there. I don't know. I can't predict that."

CAN YOU SEE ANY POSITIVE CHANGES SINCE YOU'VE BEEN AT PETTY ENTERPRISES? "I think the whole Petty organization is more confident than they've been in a long time. It's not because of Bobby Labonte. It's just a combination of Robbie and Todd and what they've brought to the team and a little bit that I can bring to the team. Then the position everybody has been put in as far as getting things organized. Next year it will be more organized. You try to make it more organized. Everybody is put in that position to make it more organized, more efficient. It's a group effort. It's not just my face, Robbie's face or Todd's face. One without the other is a missing part of the puzzle. We've put the puzzle together, and that gives everyone the confidence we need. I'm really excited about the effort everybody has been putting in. We're still building. It's not like we're here today and we've got everything we need. The car I had at Bristol, they unloaded it Saturday, the spare car, to take back to the shop because we did the Goodyear Tire Test (at Lowe's Motor Speedway) on Tuesday. That was my spare car. We're still building. We don't have all that stuff that some other teams have. We're constantly trying to catch up, trying to build as we go. Everybody there, heart wise, I was there the other night until about 7 o'clock, and I'm not sure anybody had left yet. We all had to work to get to the next day. We can't do that all the time because it will wear people out, but you see the enthusiasm. I went by the fab shop yesterday morning and there were more sparks going on than you would find anywhere. It's a great time. We've got confidence. We've got enthusiasm. We've got great people. It's a lot of fun right now. We've just got to make sure we don't wear those people out."

TALK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR SPOTTER? "Spotters are real important everywhere we go. Looking ahead, if you're here you can see what's going on in front of you. You're limited, if you're on the bottom on the curb in the middle of the corner and a guy spun out in front of you, a spotter really can't so go low because there's nowhere to go. You've got to go high. You've just got to know when to go high and if there's somebody coming behind you, but all in all, spotters are important every weekend. We've had pretty good luck with that and looking forward to being in position.... Like last weekend. I haven't seen a tape of the race but several accidents happened that we could have easily been in, but we missed them. Hopefully we can do the same thing this weekend, be in position to miss them and not be underneath somebody when something happens."

WHERE'S THE LINE FOR BUMPING ON THE TRACK? "I don't know. I guess there's an etiquette about that and then there's something you take it too far, kind of like blocking. You block a little bit and then you take it too far and you block too much. You cheat a little bit and then you cheat a little more. Everybody tries to go to the next point to get away with the most they can. Bumping, if you get bumped out of the way, you'd better expect to get bumped back. That's kind of the way it is. NASCAR could intervene or it could take care of itself. It depends on how you want to look at it or how you want to do it. If you get caught from behind, if you're running a 15.90 and the guy behind you runs a 15.50 and he catches you, it's no sense to hold him up. If you get bumped, you know what, you should have moved out of the way. Courtesy might play a factor in some of it, too. Of the accidents that have happened, if you'd just say, 'it ain't worth it.' But that person decides to hold his line and gets bumped out of the way. 'You bumped me out of the way.' No, 'you're in the way.' Courtesy would say maybe I should have gotten out of the way, saved the car, saved the trouble. You've got to play a little courtesy along with that, too. Bumping is bumping, but bumping too much could be taken care of on the racetrack. If you get bumped, you'd better expect to get bumped back."

TALK ABOUT THE MOVE TO PETTY "It's obviously a fresh, new look and sometimes that's what you might need. I'm not sure anybody in here has been with the same organization for 15 years. Sometimes you get to where a fresh light might be what you need in life. You don't know that until you do it. Sometimes it might not be the best light, but sometimes it is. As far as this year goes, it's got me to the point where new thought, understanding different people, different people talking to you, you talking to people. I told the guys at Gibbs, I felt like I had a 2,000 square foot house with a 2,000 square foot attic and my attic is cool because everybody here knows what my attic is full with. I've got extra baggage because I've been there for a long time. At Petty Enterprises I've got a 2,000 square foot house with no attic. They don't know the baggage that comes with me. They don't have the 15 years of 'when he comes here in the morning he acts just like this. He's got to get that coffee just like this.' That's obviously different. You don't have that feeling when you come across them. I think it's a new light for me, a new enthusiasm, perfect timing for a guy that needed it in his career, a little extra boost. It's nothing against those (Gibbs') guys. They were great. I could have stayed there longer if I'd wanted to. I don't know if they wanted me to stay longer, but I could have stayed longer because that's what the paper said. I just felt like it was good for both parties."

IF YOU WON THIS WEEK, WOULD THAT MEAN YOU'VE GOT EVERYTHING DONE? IF YOU DON'T WIN THIS YEAR, WILL THAT MEAN YOU'RE NOT MAKING PROGRESS YOU NEED TO MAKE? "I had a good email this week. A guy said, 'Hey, congratulation. You ran good at Bristol, not great, but good.' At first I was offended. Then I went back through it and said, 'You're right.' Everybody has been talking about how good Bristol was for us this past week. It sure was, but we've got to keep doing that. If we were working at a grocery store bagging groceries, it would be 'who cares?' They all bag the same. Not in this sport. You've got to keep going. Last week was last week. I've got to remember that. What we did last week was good for our race team, but we've got to keep doing that. This good be our best chance. We might be down and out. We might not have a good weekend at all, but we can't let that bother us because we're going to Texas. We ran good at Atlanta, so I'm excited about going to Texas now. I don't think we've let the four races prior to Bristol get us to where we couldn't go to Bristol and not win. We went to Bristol with a fast enough car. We could have won. That tells me we haven't got to the point where 'we ain't going to win.' Everybody is excited we can win, and we've got to keep that in mind. We don't want to walk away from New York with just one top five finish. I think we can keep building on it. If we don't have another top five in the next five weeks, we've just got to plugging along and do the best we can. We think we can do more. We've just got to go prove it. You can't just sit here and talk about it."

WHAT DOES TODD PARROTT BRING TO THE PACKAGE? "I feel like I had to prove myself last year more than this year. You're like, 'Do I need to be doing this or what?' This year, you go into the fresh open air of it and just do the best you can. You do

what you do and you do the best you can. I ain't trying no harder, no more, no less than last year. It's just the combination and chemistry are working out for me. Todd Parrott, I think I can speak for him the same way. We both want to do good. We both wanted to do good last year. It's like attic space. We've got a fresh new start. We can start over and do what you do and build up the attic crap and start over again I guess. I think we're focused on it because we don't have the baggage to go along with it. We're focused on the racing and trying to stay less focused on other things. Have you got something to prove? We had something to prove before. We just didn't get it done."

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW MORE AGGRESSIVE JEFF GORDON? "I was pretty amazed by that comment. We'll just have to wait and see. It's kinda hard to change from one week to the next. We'll see how it goes. I kinda laughed at it. I talked to him a little bit after the race was over, and I could see his point. I could see everybody else's point, too. It'll be interesting to see if he grows his hair longer to go along with the whole new deal. Do you have to change your whole look?"

DO YOU THINK ABOUT BEING CLOSE TO THE TOP 35? "Not really. Fortunately as a former champion we've got that going for us, probably the most recent of the guys that are going to qualify bad. It's frustrating in that this year has mimicked last year too much to the point where I look back and I was at about the same point last year. That's just the way it is. We're going to go out here, and we've got to run good and we've got to finish good. We've got to finish because we didn't finish two races already this year. You can't be 15th in points by doing that. It doesn't really weigh on me too much. If I left here Sunday night and we were 38th in points again I'd be really ticked off. I'm a little bit happier now that we're 32nd and not 35th or 36th or 38th or whatever it was and just concentrate on the forward stuff and not looking in the mirror right now. If it happens, it happens. Sometimes there's nothing you can do about it. If I do something that makes it happen, it's my fault. You'd better learn by it."

-dodge motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Morgan Shepherd