By JTG Daugherty Racing
Labonte Mentally Prepared For The Demands Of Sonoma’s Road Course
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) schedule’s versatility is evident now more than ever. On the heels of Michigan International Speedway, race teams quickly turned things around in preparation for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the 1.99-mile Infineon Raceway road course. Trucks were loaded and sent out early Tuesday morning to make the trip to the west coast.
For JTG Daugherty Racing, this will be their first road course with Bobby Labonte. The 2000 champion is hunting for his first road course victory in the No. 47 Clorox Toyota Camry to add to the 21 wins he owns.
“Infineon Raceway is a neat track and the area is really nice,” Labonte said. “This weekend will be good for our team because it is an equalizer for our aero package - - the lack of aero that we have been missing out on for some reason or another this season. Aerodynamics is not as important there.”
What is important is being mentally prepared because the track is physically demanding according to Labonte.
“Infineon definitely is a track that tests your body and your mind,” Labonte said. “It takes everything you have in you to complete the race without getting off track - - which is a struggle for some. There are a lot of things that can happen and strategy plays a big role. It’s a great skill-set type of track where you’ve got to have everything together and the driver’s got to be doing things different than what he is used to.”
Going to a road course is a nice change from the norm for the JTG Daugherty Racing team.
“We’ve had our challenges at tracks where aero comes into play,” Labonte said. “Our performance hasn’t been great. We have to learn how to capitalize on a respectable run and when we have a 20th place car, not finish 25th with it. You look back at some of the races. We were going to finish 11th at Darlington Raceway. All we had to do is finish and we got wrecked with a half of a lap to go. We could have stayed out at Dover (International Speedway) like Mark Martin did. We may have not finished second or third, but we would have finished eighth or ninth. We haven’t been able to capitalize on some of that. We’ve surrendered a ton of points on small things. We have noticed areas that need improvement and we are addressing the issues to make it better. ”
Finding the right balance is a fine line in this sport.
“The sport has changed quite a bit,” Labonte said. “The technology is one of the biggest changes. When they say you can’t test, people are still trying to find a tenth of a second to make their cars as fast as they can. The sport changes all the time and you have to adapt to it. You have to think further out and you can’t race to week. You have to figure out how to make your car tight enough where it is not sideways, but keep it free enough to be fast. You are always on a fine line and it is a finer line than ever. You’ve got to find that balance and keep it going. “
“It’s on the razor blade edge,” Labonte continued. “You see it week in and week out with different teams and finding that right balance. You look at a guy’s times on Saturday afternoon, and you say well he’s going to lap the field. When Sunday rolls around they are not even close and they don’t change anything. You learn from that as you go. We are so dependent on aero. We are talking thousandths of an inch, it’s a big deal.”
Labonte has two top-five and five top-10 finishes at Sonoma and has a positive attitude going into this weekend.
“We have a great group and Tad (Geschickter) is a great car owner,” Labonte said. “Sure, there are things we have to work on to be better. Everyone is giving 100% and we are positive about what we are doing. Racing is about teamwork. We accept our results and we work hard to make them better. Finding a balance is where it’s at and doing some of the right things too and having a little luck to go along with it.”
A little luck is what the team needed last year and it ran out in the end. Sonoma is the site where JTG Daugherty Racing’s first NSCS win got away from former driver Marcos Ambrose, who was arguably the class of the field last season. Cutting his engine off to conserve fuel under caution in front of the field, his machine stalled and he was not able to maintain speed allowing Jimmie Johnson and others to pass by. Johnson won and the Australian driver finished sixth.
“It was a tough day for us as a team,” Kerr said. “I’ve learned from it. I know we all have. We put it behind us. We are looking forward to going back there with Bobby.”