Martinsville: Pontiac Racing - No. 18 interview

BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX (starting 15th in Sunday's Winston Cup event): IN WHAT HAS BEEN KIND OF A WEIRD YEAR FOR YOUR TEAM SO FAR, YOUR SHORT TRACK PROGRAM HAS EMERGED AS AN IMPROVED ENTITY... "Our short...

BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES
PONTIAC GRAND PRIX (starting 15th in Sunday's Winston Cup event):

IN WHAT HAS BEEN KIND OF A WEIRD YEAR FOR YOUR TEAM SO FAR, YOUR SHORT TRACK PROGRAM HAS EMERGED AS AN IMPROVED ENTITY...

"Our short track deal seems to be going good. I don't know if that is because our big track program isn't what it should be right now or what. But, I feel confident on the shorter tracks right now for whatever reason, and maybe it's because we just haven't quite gotten things figured out on the big tracks, yet.

"Yesterday we were like ninth fastest in practice, but we didn't pick up any speed in qualifying. It's like, 'Dang, why didn't we pick up any speed?' But, we haven't been able to do that all year for the most part. I don't know what I've got to do to do that. If we had picked up half a tenth yesterday, we would have been eighth and that's a lot, position-wise."

DO YOU RUN A RACE SETUP HERE THAT IS FAIRLY SIMILAR TO YOUR QUALIFYING SETUP?

"We run a qualifying setup here, but I'm probably not as aggressive as other guys are with that setup. I see other guys - how free they are - and my car is just probably not free enough to go fast. My car is probably too comfortable and I don't let it hang out as much as some other guys.

"With our race setup, we probably aren't going to change too much, just because they're isn't as much to change. Obviously, if we had gone out on the edge a little bit more yesterday we might have been a little faster. But then, we would have had to change a little bit more from our qualifying setup."

IS THIS A PLACE WHERE YOU HAVE TO 'SLOW DOWN TO GO FASTER' - AS FAR AS LETTING THE CAR ROLL INTO THE CORNER?

"It is, to a certain extent. But, the way the competition is today and with the way the brakes last these days, you've pretty much got to run really, really hard a lot. You've still got to take it easy to a certain extent over the course of a run, but it's just not like it used to be. The tires don't give up as much and you just run really hard the whole time."

IS YOUR IMPROVED PERFORMANCE ON SHORT TRACKS NOW A PRODUCT OF HOW HARD YOU HAD TO FOCUS ON IMPROVING THEM DURING YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP BIDS IN 1999 AND 2000?

"A lot of it is. At places like Richmond, Bristol, here and even the road courses, I'd say we went from being a 15th place car to a top 10 car pretty quickly. We led races at a lot of those places and kind of 'could have won, should have won,' so we definitely got better.

"Some of it does come from that - some of it, but not all of it. A lot of it we learned from the '20' car over the past two years. He runs really well there, so we gathered some information from that, too."

ARE YOU GETTING CLOSER TO FIGURING OUT YOUR BIG TRACK PROGRAM?

"I think we learned some stuff at Texas, even though we didn't do the right thing. We still learned what not to do and I think, for whatever reason, that might have been our nemesis all along. We might have been trying to do some stuff that we just weren't used to doing. Even though I wasn't that happy with the car beforehand - before we made some changes in the car - we just didn't need to go with that drastic of a change."

JIMMY MAKAR, CREW CHIEF,
NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR SHORT PROGRAM IS IMPROVING?

"Certainly, I think we're getting better. We've put a pretty significant effort into that and I feel like we've made gains. It seems like we've been able to run competitively the past several races. Some of our finishes aren't showing it, but I feel like, at the racetrack, we're a lot more competitive than we have been in the past and that's the first step. I'm fairly pleased. We're not there, by any stretch of the imagination, but we have been making gains. It's good to see some results from the effort that we've been putting forth."

IS YOUR IMPROVED PERFORMANCE ON SHORT TRACKS NOW A PRODUCT OF HOW HARD YOU HAD TO FOCUS ON IMPROVING THEM DURING YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP BIDS IN 1999 AND 2000?

"I think so. To me, that is juts an on-going process that you need to stay with. You look at your weaknesses and you try to strengthen them. Every year you do the same thing. You look at places, find the weakest link in your system and try to improve upon it.

"Granted, we've made gains in our short track program, but the new tire combination and all that kind of put a hurtin' on our speedway program, too, so now - over the last six months or so - we've been really concentrating a lot of effort and trying to get better with the new tire that Goodyear has got. We've made some gains there, but it seems like they're coming pretty slow. That's our focus right now is to get back to being consistent at places where we didn't have to put near the effort into in the past."

STARTING 15TH, YOU'VE GOT DECENT TRACK POSITION TO WORK WITH RIGHT FROM THE START...HOW DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR APPROACH TO THE START OF THE RACE, VERSUS SOMEONE STARTING NEAR THE BACK?

"It'll be nice to be halfway through the field instead of at the back of the field in the first part of the race. You don't have to do as many creative things just to maintain track position and gain track position in the early part of the race. There's a little bit of a burden off or your shoulders for that part of it. Granted, 15th is still in the middle of the field, so you've got to be careful with the traffic and not get the nose knocked off of the car. That's going to be the key issue early in the race."

-pontiac-

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Series NASCAR Cup