BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: DESPITE GETTING OFF TO A SLOW START THIS YEAR, YOU'RE REALLY NOT IN TOO BAD OF SHAPE "No, not for what we went through during the early part of the season. Knowing that we're...
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
DESPITE GETTING OFF TO A SLOW START THIS YEAR, YOU'RE REALLY NOT IN TOO BAD OF SHAPE
"No, not for what we went through during the early part of the season. Knowing that we're just now starting off the second half of the season and we had a good run Saturday night at Daytona and gained something points-wise, finished in the top five - that was a good finish for us - I can't really complain because things like that are going to happen. The year didn't start off the way we wanted. We definitely had higher hopes, but things like that happen. That's part of racing. If we're able to battle back to a good finish here, then that's good. Week-in and week-out we've got to finish in the top five and top 10 to accomplish that. That's our main goal right now."
ON THIS WEEK'S RACE AT CHICAGO
"I think it's going to be a great race. Jeff Gordon and I tire tested up there a few weeks back. He ran a lot more laps than we did. We weren't quite set up correctly for it, but the tire that Goodyear is going to bring is going to be really good for us. The temperature is probably going to be kind of warm. The racetrack is really exciting. I think it's going to be an exciting race. Most new tracks, the groove is probably going to be more predominantly on the bottom of the racetrack, but you never know. We're looking for a good race up there this weekend in the Busch Series and the Winston Cup Series. I'm not going to run the Busch Series race, but I hope they have a good race, too."
ON YOUR CHANCES AT THE BRICKYARD 400
"We are going to go test there in a few weeks and we're looking forward to that. We haven't really tested a whole lot this year on Winston Cup tracks. We've only tested twice, I guess. Hopefully we can go up there and test, and prove what we've been doing here lately. It seems like we've been gaining on it and learning a lot. When you say you're looking forward to going back to a racetrack that is maybe going to give you a lot of confidence, I think that the Brickyard would come to mind because the last three years we haven't finished out of the top three. That's exciting for us. Hopefully we can get back there and get back in the swing of things with that race."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS COMPARING LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR?
"Knowing that we've been getting better on our setups here the past few weeks gives me a lot of confidence and I know it gives Jimmy [Makar] and everybody else a lot of confidence that hopefully we'll go back up there and get back in the swing of things as far as our confidence level goes because it is such a neat racetrack to go to."
ANY THOUGHTS ON PEOPLE SAYING THAT MICHAEL WALTRIP DID NOT TRY TO WIN THE RACE AT DAYTONA SATURDAY NIGHT?
"Nowadays with multi-car teams, it's probably a little easier to think that. Michael probably would have wanted to win, but under the situation and circumstances - he passed me with a lap and a half to go - it's just a deal where he might have finished second anyway. I don't know. I just think that some people might be carried away with that. I know Michael would have wanted to have won and would love to have won. But hey, it just didn't turn out that way for him. He did say he was glad to push Dale [Earnhardt, Jr.] home. That doesn't mean that he wasn't trying to win. That just meant that he was trying to do the right thing for everybody and that was to make sure that DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) had a one-two finish."
ON YOUR FEELINGS HEADING BACK TO NEW HAMPSHIRE IN A COUPLE WEEKS AFTER THE DEATHS OF ADAM PETTY AND KENNY IRWIN, JR.
"It's going to be on a lot of people's minds when we go back, there's no doubt, just like it was when we went back for the second race last year. I know that they ground the racetrack going down the back straightaway into turn three and got a little bit of a hump out of it. Hopefully that fixed some things, but I know there is a lot more to it than that. I know it wasn't really ever said what exactly happened, but I have a pretty good feeling what happened. You just try to do the best you can do without things happening to your car. But for the most part, it's going to be on our minds. Saturday was one year since Kenny lost his life and Adam lost his earlier last year. It hits at home, especially with Adam and Kenny, both. It's something that you're not going to get over in one year. You'll always be thinking about it. We'll say it again like we always do that the race is on the schedule and we're going to do the job that we're supposed to be doing. That's what we have to do."
HOW ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF NASCAR RIGGING CERTAIN EVENTS FOR CERTAIN DRIVERS TO WIN?
"I don't think that is very fair. It doesn't happen like that. Races are won and lost for reasons. This is not WWF (World Wrestling Federation). We're racing out there. A race won by 16 seconds by somebody and a race won by six one-hundredths of a second - it just happens that way. Nobody makes it that way, it just happens that way. I think NASCAR does the best job of making all the cars equal. I'm sure [a win of] six tenths of a second would be better in their eyes all the time over [a win of] 16 seconds. But, it just doesn't happen that way. A guy winning the race because he's not supposed to just doesn't happen. There is too much competition out there. It's just not feasible on their part. There are too many mechanical parts and too many things that are going to have be eliminated throughout the race to let that happen. "Junior's win Saturday night was probably like my winning Atlanta (in 1996) and Terry winning the championship the same day. You couldn't have written a better storybook, but nobody told us it was going to happen. It just happened that way."
ON YOUR SEASON SO FAR
"It's definitely a character-building year, what we've done this year. All of us are trying to find out what we can do to make it better - the performance of the car. Jimmy and I have talked about that quite a bit. We've run a couple of tests that weren't at NASCAR tracks just to kind of learn a few things over again. "We've had some [bad] luck this year. We've had three engine failures. We didn't have any last year. If you average out one and a half a year, that's usually pretty good. It sure would be nice if we didn't have any more. But, if we keep trying stuff and we keep racing, things are going to happen. For the most part, I think we've learned to accept some that we're going to run bad every now and then. What does that mean? It means we've got to work harder. It means we're not working hard enough and we're not headed in the right direction. We maybe kind of went up the wrong path on our setups and need to come down a go a different way. The big thing is just that I think this is a big, old character-builder for us as a race team to make sure that we get everything right."
HOW SOON DID YOU REALIZE THAT DEFENDING A TITLE IS A LOT HARDER THAN IT MIGHT SEEM?
"It didn't take this year. I've seen it happen over the course of many years with other people. But after last year, I had high hopes and high expectations going into Daytona and we had a DNF down there. But we came back the next weekend at Rockingham and nearly won and finished second. We were tickled to death over that and thinking, 'Well, we're back on track again.' But for the most part, it just kind of happened slowly that I realized myself that, 'You know, we're not quite as competitive as I want to be,' and I needed to kind of say, 'OK, instead of thinking that you're supposed to run good you need to think that if you're not going to run good, you need to work on it instead of thinking that we're supposed to run good.' "It was kind of over the course of the next few races after Rockingham that it was evident that maybe we're not going to be as competitive as I thought we were."
HOW DOES JOE GIBBS RACING APPROACH GOING TO A NEW TRACK?
"We did tire test at Chicago and that might help us a little bit as far as the initial setup. We didn't test up there on our own. We're going to use the Thursday test up there to try a few things that maybe we wouldn't try on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday weekend. Kansas City, we haven't decided if we're going to test there or not. It might be on the schedule, but we're still looking at it. It's just a deal where we do compare each track to some other ones. The set up is probably going to be pretty close to the same as some other tracks that we go to, but we know it's going to be different in some other areas at the same time. With having two good race cars, when we get up there on Thursday, Tony [Stewart] and I can sit down and talk about what we're going to do for Friday when it really starts. Hopefully we can just learn from what we've learned so far this year at the tracks that are similar to that and pick up on a few things that we might try on Thursday."
WHICH TRACK IS MOST SIMILAR TO CHICAGO?
"I guess it's a little bit like Las Vegas in some ways. It's got a little bit of a Michigan characteristic in the corners. Between those two, I would say it's pretty similar and I would say that Kansas City is going to be close to the same. "I like mile and half racetracks, so maybe it will work out good for us."
HAVE YOU DONE ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY OVER THE PAST FEW WEEKS AS YOU'VE CLIMBED BACK INTO THE TOP 10?
"Not really, other than just trying different things. I think what we had wasn't working for me. The tire that Goodyear brought out is a great tire; it's just that I needed a different setup to make it feel good for me in the driver's seat. We had to work hard on that. We're constantly trying new things and sometimes you might get a little bit behind on trying new things that other teams have tried. We keep constantly doing that throughout the year. We realized that our notes from last year or the year before might not have worked quite as good as we wanted them to and we had to kind of scratch our heads, look around a little bit, see what Tony was doing. Things that helped him sometimes didn't help me and sometimes it did, and we used that as an example and tried to make it better."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE PONTIACS ARE AT A DISADVANTAGE AT THIS POINT OF THE SEASON?
"I think it's probably pretty obvious that at the speedways we probably have too much drag and not enough downforce at those tracks. I guess if I had to choose to be at a disadvantage somewhere, those are probably the four races I'd pick. But I think everywhere else we're probably pretty close. NASCAR takes the cars to the wind tunnel and figures out what they are, and what it is is what it is. They make decisions from there and evidently we're pretty close. I feel like we are. Our cars are aerodynamically competitive and the rest of it is all up to individual race teams anyway. For the most part, I think it goes back to the race team when it comes down to it."
ARE SOME OF THE NEW TRACKS THAT ARE OPENING UP TOO MUCH LIKE EXISTING RACETRACKS?
"Well, if you liked Bristol and that was the best track you liked and they were building mile and a half tracks, I'd say you might have a complaint. But, I'm not going to complain too much because I like mile and a half-type racetracks. It fits my driving style a little bit better for whatever reason. "I've been to Chicago and I haven't been to Kansas City except for when they were still turning over some dirt. But each one of them has a little different characteristic, I think. I'll give you a good example. They tried to build Atlanta to be similar to Charlotte and they tried to build Texas to be similar to both of them and none of them are the same. They couldn't even do that, which is good. I'm glad they didn't because I wouldn't want three tracks the same. Texas and Charlotte and Atlanta are all owned by Bruton [Smith] and are all great racetracks, but they're all different. I think Chicago, Kansas and Las Vegas are all different in enough ways that it does take a little different setup and a little different thought process as to how to enter that race."