Pontiac Racing drivers look to Talladega

DETROIT (Oct. 10, 2000) - Granted there are a handful of new rules in effect for this week's race at Talladega Superspeedway, but NASCAR Winston Cup teams are still counting on a wild Sunday at the 2.66-mile tri-oval. Bobby Labonte and his Jimmy...

DETROIT (Oct. 10, 2000) - Granted there are a handful of new rules in effect for this week's race at Talladega Superspeedway, but NASCAR Winston Cup teams are still counting on a wild Sunday at the 2.66-mile tri-oval.

Bobby Labonte and his Jimmy Makar-led team take a 252-point lead over Jeff Burton to Talladega. Labonte is hoping to avoid the type of wreck that handed him his second-worst finish (21st) of the 2000 season in the series' second restrictor-plate race of the year.

Johnny Benson knows the best way to stay out of trouble this week is to stay up front like he has done at the previous three plate races this year. Benson, who tested the new rules at Talladega a few weeks ago, has led 61 laps this year in the Aaron's Grand Prix, with 50 of them coming in restrictor-plate outings.

Rookie Dave Blaney has managed to post an average qualifying effort of 10th in plate races this year, but is looking to improve on a best finish of 24th in those races. Blaney's team tested their car with the new rules package in the wind tunnel recently in an effort to get a leg up on the competition.


.what are your thoughts on this week's race?: "We were able to go down and do the NASCAR test in Daytona. You could see a big difference in pulling up to the draft, but it's still a little tough to pass. I think it's going to be a lot of the same type of racing and it will be a little different in some ways, too. With 43 cars out there it's going to be different than with 19 cars out there in practice like we did down at Daytona. There are going to be a lot of people trying to feel out what is going on and figuring out what they've got to do and how to pass and what the new rules are going to do to their cars. Are they going to be able to suck up a lot more and to what extreme? "Everybody is going to be probably feeling it out a lot Saturday morning and seeing how it goes. You won't see that Friday in practice because we'll just be trying to qualify. But Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon it' ll be a lot of people trying to figure out what works with what and who works better with whom. It's the same thing. It's just trying to re-learn some new areas that maybe we haven't been able to do in a while."

.on the team continuing to race for wins even though they are in a points battle: "Our philosophy is that we start the weekend off 'zero-zero.' We' ve got zero points - everybody's got zero points. At the end of the day we try to get the most points and that's our philosophy. If you do that, the points will take care of themselves. You have to run good, you have to be consistent, you have to win races, you have to lead laps, you have to do everything. We do everything we can in our power to run the best that we can every weekend. We're not going to hit it every weekend, but on the days that we can, that's what got us here to this point. We can't change our thought process now." (continued, p. 2)

"If we change our thought process now we'll be in trouble because we are so in tune with what we're doing. I'm not sure that we know how to change. Now there is not guarantee we're going to run good or win because every weekend is always a toss-up. We try our best, but it's always hard because you've got so many good competitors out there. You're not going to be good all the time and you're going to have times that you're off and on. But we' re just going to try to keep our focus on winning races and running good. If you can do one of those two and finish those races in good positions, whether you have a bad day and make a good day out of it or you have a good day and make a great day out of it - like today - there at the end of the year things will work out for you hopefully."


.what is your approach to the racing under a new rules package this week at Talladega?: "When you get new rules like this it reminds me of our Loudon issue - going there with a restrictor plate. I think the good race teams know how to react to change. I think that's true in any professional sport. The teams that rise to the top are the ones that go home and work on the change, on what has to happen for them to be good. Then there is going to be a group that goes home and they complain about it a little bit, and they might not work really hard at it. They might just get by. "When these rules came about we started working on what we needed to work on to make our cars right, and we're looking forward to getting to Talladega. It's going to be different. There are going to be some people that are going to be good and there are some people that are going to miss it big-time, and I think it will be a little controversial. But we feel like we're ready for the race. We've done everything we can possible to be competitive when we get down there."


.what do you expect during the race Sunday?: "It's going to be interesting. We don't know what to expect. When we tested down there it was just myself and Ted Musgrave. We were doing qualifying runs. He really wasn't really geared up to go into race-mode and neither were we. But we know the effect. We had the rear spoiler on the car with the 'Gurney flap' on it and left the piece off the roof and went out and ran a couple laps. Then we came in and put it on and it slowed the car down over a second. We know it creates a lot of drag and we know it's busting a bigger hole in the air. With doing that you know darn well that a guy is going to be able to draft off the back of you better than he has in the past, so it's going to be interesting to see how it turns out when you put 43 of them on the racetrack."

.how does he feel heading into a restrictor-plate race?: "I don't like them any more, but it's part of the schedule. You've got to go. We've had some pretty good success here lately, so we like going there knowing we've run good. But at the same token it's frustrating to sit there and follow a guy for 50 laps and you can't pass him. That's no fun either. But that's what this (rules) change is about. This change wasn't made to slow us down because if they wanted to slow us down they wouldn't let us have a bigger restrictor plate. This was about being able to pass and things like that. I believe that is going to happen. It's just a matter of how it's going to happen and when it's going to happen." (continued, p. 3)

"Until we get all 43 on the track and start running in race trim, we really don't know what this scenario will be like."

.what is your confidence like heading into this race?: "It's all different now, so we're not sure. I hope that we're confident enough to go down there and run just as good as we have in the other plate races. But by the same token, it's a whole new set of rules now. Hopefully we'll be able to learn some of the things rather quickly and be able to adjust to it, and hopefully have a good run."


.what did you find during your wind-tunnel test with the new rules package?: "The biggest thing we found is that this is a big equalizer. We're talking about 30 percent more drag than before. Usually a day in the wind tunnel you could find maybe six or seven percent to trim off that number, but with all this new stuff - especially the roof blade - you're not finding anything."

.where do you expect to see the biggest impact?: "I think the big unknown is going to be qualifying. We don't really know if that roof blade is going to affect one manufacturer more than the other. There are a lot of things there that are unknowns. The biggest thing race-wise, with us having tested in Daytona (during the NASCAR test), is that it's a big equalizer there. They had 15 or 20 cars in a draft and if you were 40 cars back you caught everybody in two laps. It looks like whether you have Robert Yates engine or an engine that's down 50 horsepower, in that draft you're as good as anybody in that draft. And it sure looks like if you get a run on somebody you're going to be going six or eight miles an hour faster where before you were going one or two miles an hour faster. The comment was made when the drivers got together and discussed it that they might have to draw 'out of bounds lines' on the track because if they're four-wide and you're going six miles an hour faster, you're going to try to make it five-wide. "I think it will be a very exciting race for the fans. I just hope it doesn't get too exciting for the drivers."

.will it be a nerve-wracking race to watch as a crew chief?: "It's going to be a very tense race. I think just the fact that the whole group is going to be bunched together all day long for the full race is just going to be real tense on everybody, especially the drivers and the spotters. We were talking the other day and we don't know if the spotter will even have a chance to say anything. With cars coming as fast as they'll be coming, by the time you say something it might already be too late to tell the driver. "These race car drivers are not going to sit back and wait until the end of the race. They are going to get up there and run as hard as they can all day. A smart driver like Dave (Blaney) is going to try to stay out of trouble and not put himself in a bad position, but he is going to be out there racing all day, too."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Johnny Benson , Ted Musgrave , Robert Yates , Dave Blaney