Pontiac Drivers Preview The Daytona 500

Daytona 500 Daytona International Speedway February 12, 1999 Note: Bobby Labonte became the first Pontiac Grand Prix driver to win a twin 125-mile qualifying race at Daytona since Bobby Allison did it in 1981. Now he looks to become the ...

Daytona 500 Daytona International Speedway February 12, 1999

Note: Bobby Labonte became the first Pontiac Grand Prix driver to win a twin 125-mile qualifying race at Daytona since Bobby Allison did it in 1981. Now he looks to become the first Pontiac driver to win the Daytona 500 since Cale Yarborough in 1983.

BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "We're more excited about the Daytona 500 now than we would have been if we had finished second in our twin. There's no better medicine for any type of ill. It doesn't matter which race you win, if you win one, even if it's a non-points race, it still pumps everybody else up. We've got some new guys. They needed it, I needed it, Jimmy needed it, everybody needed it. It's been a long winter for them. They worked real hard to get a new team going."

BECAUSE OF THE AMOUNT OF OFFSEASON WORK, A LOT OF PEOPLE SAID THIS TEAM MAY NOT BE ON TOP OF ITS GAME AT THE START OF THE SEASON. "You never know. We might not win another race, but we sure do think that we can. After yesterday, I sure do think we can too. We did spend a lot of time doing a lot of things. It's not that we were spending time doing the wrong things, but we spent a lot of time doing it. It wasn't like last year when we could just concentrate on improving."

QUITE A THRILL TO GET A TASTE OF VICTORY LANE AT DAYTONA? "Oh, yeah. I think so. I think it's pretty darn nifty. You don't ever know when you're going to get back there, so I wanted to make sure I enjoyed it. I still am. To win at Daytona I think is very, very special. It's definitely a huge deal. Jimmy's tried to win this qualifying race for 19 years now, I think. It's good for all of us. Last year we sat on the pole and we had all week to say, 'Hey, we had the fastest car.' We did it differently this year. I like this way better."

YOU HAD A SCHEDULED DINNER WITH PONTIAC OFFICIALS LAST NIGHT. WINNING MAKE IT MORE ENJOYABLE? "Definitely. It will really make things easier for us today and tomorrow probably because we won. Not that we've got a problem, it's just that it makes things easier. The whole team chimed right in and it brought us closer together. We have some new guys and it's good for them. Hopefully, it made us feel good about running Sunday's race. The Pontiac dinner last night was enjoyable. It made for a good night. It's kind of like that question you always hear, "Is it important to qualify good here?' No, it's important to qualify good everywhere. Somebody asked me yesterday, "Is it good to win this race?' It's like winning any race, it's good. If you win a race you win a race."

GORDON SAID HE DIDN'T SEE ANYTHING EXCEPTIONAL IN YOUR CAR. HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS YOUR PONTIAC'S PERFORMANCE? "I think this Grand Prix was really good driving-wise. I think what he means is that his car is really good driving-wise and mine not be quite as good, but mine had a little more motor. I think we had more power. For 500 miles it might be a different story, but for 50 laps I was OK. But I also had to race a lot more guys than he did."

ARE YOU CLOSE FOR SUNDAY? "I think so. I'm not 100 percent sure yet. We're just fine-tuning on some stuff."

Note: Ernie Irvan is one of eight active Daytona 500 winners and talks about his struggle to get competitive for Sunday's race.

ERNIE IRVAN (No. 36 M&M's Pontiac Grand Prix): "Obviously, it's good to be racing again. Being able to be healthy enough to race again, that's the important thing. I'm real happy that I'm able to do it. Being able to be involved in Winston Cup racing is a dream come true. It's something I feel very fortunate about. I feel a little bit different than how I felt before. I can't really say that after Atlanta there was a specific time where I could say, 'Yeah, I'm going to be all right.' It's just a matter of going out and doing it again. There hasn't been a point where a light turned on signaling I was all right. It's just a matter of going out and being able to do it again."

WHAT DO YOU GUYS NEED TO DO TO GET THIS PONTIAC GOING LIKE IT WAS DOWN HERE LAST YEAR? "We're just slow. Before we were tightening it up a lot to get it to where I could drive it and that's obviously made it slow. That was our excuse for yesterday. Now we've basically put in the same springs and shocks everybody else is running. Now it should run halfway decent, but it's still not running very good. Now we're going to change the motor and hopefully that will perk it up some. I've been involved in motor changes a lot and they usually don't perk them up because there's usually nothing wrong with the motor. We hope that the combination of changing the motor and doing some other different things will perk it up a little bit. Right now it wasn't a lot of fun yesterday and it doesn't appear like it's going to be a lot of fun come Sunday."

DOES WINNING THIS RACE GIVE YOU AN EDGE? "That kind of experience helps you on that race. This is a different race. It really doesn't make any difference. Dale Earnhardt won last year and that doesn't mean he has any better chance winning this year than he did last year. There's nothing that just says, 'This guy has a better chance of winning because he's won before. It doesn't work that way with the Daytona 500. Everybody comes here loaded for bear. I think we've all got a pretty good chance of being able to win. As of yesterday, I didn't have a whole lot of chance of winning. Our Pontiac performed well in qualifying. We look at that and say with our package we know we have run fairly good before. We've just got to go back to the package and work on it a little different."

ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT STARTING SO FAR BACK? "I'm concerned about it because the majority of the time if there is going to be a wreck it happens further back. If the wreck starts in front you're going to have to go through it. We've got to bide our time. It's a 500-mile race and you've got to pay attention to everything that you're doing out there. Hopefully, we'll be able to make it through until the halfway point and things will be shaping up."

WHO ARE THE FAVORITES? "The same guys we've seen before. Bobby Labonte obviously looked pretty strong. Every time I watched him he was fifth or sixth and the next thing I know he's leading the race. I was like, =91How did he do that?' I'm not real sure how he did it. If I watch it back on TV I'll bet I'll be able to find it. Earnhardt is definitely going to be real tough. Skinner is going to be tough. Those guys just seem to be tough every week as far as the restrictor plate stuff. There's a whole handful of them."

Note: John Andretti will have to come from the rear of the field for the Daytona 500 after being forced to go to a backup Pontiac Grand Prix following an accident in his twin 125-mile qualifying race.

JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 STP Pontiac Grand Prix): "It's like Robbie (Loomis) told me, this might be our best backup car of the year because we kind of flipped the coin to see which Pontiac we'd race. This is a brand new car and we decided to race the old car because we thought it wouldn't qualify as well, but it was something we knew for the race. We got ready and ran Monday morning and first time out the car was just really, really fast. It's a little disappointing to be giving up a car we spent three days with and give it up in such a meaningless accident. Those things happen and we'll just move on. I think we'll have a really strong car for the 500. The problem is, on paper it might look like we're starting 36th but because we're in a backup car there are going to be four or five of us back there starting last. I don't know how four or five guys start last, but we'll find out."

CONCERNED ABOUT STARTING IN THE REAR BECAUSE OF THE TENDENCY FOR TROUBLE? "It's always nicer when you here your spotter say, 'There's a caution behind you,' rather than, 'Go low.' You can be weeding your way through and still get taken out from a guy that hasn't slowed down or whatever. I'm not overly excited about it. I wasn't overly excited about my 125 starting spot, but I knew if we made it through the first bit that we had a fast enough car we'd get in with a good group of cars and not have that problem. I wouldn't have even gotten out of bed yesterday morning if I knew that was going to happen. I would have just left it parked in the garage and kept my good race car. Unfortunately, I don't see the future better than anyone else."

WHO ARE THE RACE FAVORITES? "It's pretty much the typical guys. You've got to look at Earnhardt when he doesn't practice and then goes out and wins a 125. Part of that is the fact that when he pulled out against Tony (Stewart), well, who are you going to pick? In all fairness, Tony knew what was going to happen and I think Tony drove a good race. I'd say somebody that has a good, strong car and has done a good job since he's been here is Tony. From that standpoint, he'd be one of the ones that isn't one of the typical guys that are the real threats to win. He's probably the one guy that's got a strong enough car and if everything goes his way, he can get a good strong finish. I don't know if he has enough friends out there to win the race, but he certainly has a strong enough car and enough talent to run up there in the top-five. Who knows what will happen? There could be a big crash at the end. Occasionally, that happens at Daytona. I think we were a contender and that we will build ourselves into a contender. It's like Richard said to me, 'I've won an awful lot of races in just a Petty blue car (what Andretti has now).' We're all Petty blue now."

MUST HAVE BEEN NICE TO HAVE DALE INMAN AS A SPOTTER DOWN HERE YESTERDAY. "It was pretty funny, he asked me, 'What could I have done different to help you.' I won't tell you what I said, but Dale has a tremendous amount of respect in this garage area. He's got it from me. It's real unfortunate that Chris Hussey got sick. I think it was also almost like an omen that Dale Inman shouldn't be away from at least the Daytona 500. If he's going to retire, the Daytona 500 should be his last race. We need to send him off with a big last race."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Ernie Irvan , Bobby Labonte , Bobby Allison , Cale Yarborough