DieHard 500 Talladega Superspeedway April 25, 1999 Note: With Bobby Labonte's fourth-place finish and Tony Stewart's fifth-place run, Pontiac now has nine top-five finishes compared to three top-fives after nine races last season. Pontiac has...
DieHard 500 Talladega Superspeedway April 25, 1999
Note: With Bobby Labonte's fourth-place finish and Tony Stewart's fifth-place run, Pontiac now has nine top-five finishes compared to three top-fives after nine races last season. Pontiac has 22 top-10 finishes, compared to nine top-10s at this point last year. Four Pontiac drivers rank in the top-12 in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings.
BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "You just do what you have to do at the end. I didn't think we were that strong, but lap times showed we were strong up front. It just didn't seem like we could pull out and pass anybody today. Three less cars in front of me at the end would have made the difference. That's about it. We were lucky. Real lucky. Im not really frustrated, but I'm glad its over. After the last two weeks, were awfully excited we were able to finish this race. The last two weeks we hadn't finished one like we wanted to. To finish one, that's good. I got back there in the back in the closing laps and had to find the right place to make a move. That's hard to do, but fortunately, it worked out for us and we got back up to fourth. I was pushing Dale Jarrett down the back straightaway there and I got passed on the inside. I got rooted out to the back. It was a deal where I had to make a charge to come back. Fortunately enough, we were able to do it. I don't think we made too many enemies on the way. It was pretty strong. We just ran out of steam there at the end."
JIMMY MAKAR, crew chief (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "We had two great race cars. It was a typical Talladega deal. You'd get hung out to dry by someone and have two lines of cars get by you. There's nothing you can do until you find a place to get in and then you've got to dig and dig and dig to make something happen to get back to the front. It seems like that's what we did all day long. We really didn't have strategy planned out with the 20 car. It was kind of an unspoken deal where if there was an opportunity to help each other we would. We wouldn't hang each other out to dry and if we had a chance to help each other we'd help each other. We were sitting there leading late in the race and we got the word that the 88, 6 and a couple of others were just content to sit in line. Five or 10 laps later somebody pulled out and they went by us. That doesn't work either. "Tony is doing a good job. I tell you it seems like he's learning more and more everyday. He's paying attention and those guys have a great race car every week and they do a good job tuning it up and getting it ready to go. The selection of their springs and shocks is their call. We do talk back and forth so we know what each others doing. We try to help each other out if we find things that work. The plan is to do this forever, help out each other. That's the way we intended it to go and that's the way we plan on making it work. As long as we stay focused on that we'll be fine. It's going to get a little tougher when you have one guy running first and one guy running second and trying to win the race. That will be a little tougher, definitely."
Note: Tony Stewart's first career top-five finish comes in his ninth career start. He led one time for 10 laps. He and Mike Skinner hugged after the race and apologized to each other about the crash on lap 49. Stewart moved from 10th to seventh in the point standings.
TONY STEWART (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix): "I think Mike Skinner and I are probably going to team up and open up our own lawn cutting service because we mowed a lot of Talladega grass today. I probably should have backed down, but I was afraid there was a whole line of cars behind me that would get by both of us. The only way to get the experience is to go out here and do what we're doing. That's part of being a rookie, I'm going to make mistakes, too. Mike Skinner has been one of the guys that when Ive been down and struggling at places he's been one of the first guys to come over and help me. That's why we're able to stand here and smile at each other. "As close as we run here it doesn't take much of a bobble to cause something big to happen. I pulled down to go with Mike, but I got such a good run I thought if I slowed down the whole line would go by. I thought if I pulled down I might just be able to go on by him. Those are experiences you have to learn by trial and error. You just hope when you try those things that nothing happens like what happened today with us. "I learned some things last year in IROC about the draft. There was a couple of times when I tried some things, while I was trying guys were doing things behind me and I got caught out. There were three or four times when I caused myself to get hung out today. I can't tell you what happened the last five laps because there was so much stuff happening. I just acted on instinct and impulse, actions and reactions. We got a couple of real good pushes from Buckshot and that really helped out today. Bobby gave us a couple of good pushes there at the end today, too, to get us going. We really worked well together the times that we had to be around each other. That helped us get that top-five today. It was nice for us to come back here and run fourth and fifth after the disappointments we had at Daytona, more so for him than myself. I didn't have any expectations there, but Bobby was really looking forward to having a good run and potentially going for a win there. It was nice for us to come back and be able to run the way we did. "I'm not worried about a win. I'm worried about being consistent. Every race I get asked that and my answer hasn't changed any. All I'm worried about doing is being consistent. When it's our day it will happen. It may not be this year, we may never have it happen, who knows? If we can keep doing what we did today I'm sure it's in the future somewhere. "This kind of racing can be frustrating. You can have a car that's faster than the guy in front of you or beside you, but with the way the air works it evens everybody out. It's knowing how to manipulate the air and manipulate the draft and use it to your benefit. I think everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing is pretty happy right now."
Note: John Andretti posted his third consecutive top-10 finish with a ninth-place run today. He moved from 14th to 12th in the point standings.
ROBBIE LOOMIS, crew chief (No. 43 STP Pontiac Grand Prix): "It was a great race for us. Rick Mann did a great job with the engines. When it got down to the end it was just a matter of who was going to go with who. We just didn't have much help. Like I told John, 'We won the race last week and we just ran our best restrictor plate race since we've been together and we've got nothing to complain about.' We didn't have a lot of help all day. There at the end with Tony, I think it was just inexperience on his part being a rookie and he didn't realize we had the faster car and he went with the 6 car. It ended up probably hurting him a little bit, too, but hell learn and come around on that, too. This run gives us a lot of momentum. We made the top-25 in qualifying and we were pretty ecstatic about that. We feel like when we go to Daytona we'll have a little more horsepower and improve the body and we'll have an even better run at Daytona."
Note: Rich Bickle ran in the top-five late in today's race before a lapped car cost him a top-10 finish.
RICH BICKLE (No. 45 Lucky Dog Pontiac Grand Prix): "We had a really good car. Every time I got there I didn't have many dancing partners. People changed lanes and you either had to roll out or take them out. I don't like wrecking anybody especially the speeds you're going here. We had a top-10 car. A lapped car right in the middle of all the stuff didn't need to be there, even though he had a great day. He just kind of screwed up the whole mess on the last lap. When you fight all day, fight all day and have somebody do that, it really pisses you off. We had a great car. I don't know how I got through the wreck. I think we'll make it even a little better when we get to Daytona. We had a pretty good run at Martinsville, just missed the boat a little bit there. Today was a great run even though we didn't finish where we needed to. You can't do anything about it in restrictor plate racing. One guy jumps out and another doesn't go. I haven't been here a lot and I don't really know where I'm going. I jumped lanes quite a bit. I made holes. I had a super-fast car so I figured maybe somebody would jump in behind me and go, but maybe Daytona".
KYLE PETTY (No. 44 Hot Wheels Pontiac Grand Prix): "We weren't overly blessed. This is the Pontiac I wrecked in testing down here and we just never got it back to where it was good. We had good pit stops and they did really good getting everything where it needed to be. I told them one time about halfway through the race that we had a good top-15 car. I couldn't run with those guys in the top-10. I'd get up there for a lap or two just because they would get shuffled, when they'd get two-wide. I just couldn't stay there. We probably ran and finished about where we should have run and finished."
Note: Buckshot Jones ran as high as 10th today before settling for a career-best 21st-place finish.
BUCKSHOT JONES (No. 00 Crown Fiber Pontiac Grand Prix): "We had a good run going, but I knew when it came down to the end I wouldn't have any friends. I tried to help Tony there a little bit there at the end because I thought he had a pretty good car. I got him around some other cars. The freight train went by when I had nobody behind me pushing me. I was there along for the ride, sitting there wide open. I learned a lot, made all the laps and didn't tear anything up. We had a good car, but if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time you're going to get passed. We were pretty good on that last restart and we just got passed. I learned a lot about getting schooled (laughing). I tried to be patient. I was patient and stayed up in the high groove and the lower groove just went on by and I went to the back. I'm glad I got the experience."
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Pontiac Grand Prix): "We made it through that deal on the backstretch and then got hit on pit road. I'm not exactly sure what happened there. I guess when you miss a giant wreck and then tear your car up on pit road it's a pretty good sign it ain't going to be your day. It wasn't."
ERNIE IRVAN (No. 36 M&M's Pontiac Grand Prix): "As far as what I could see, I really couldn't see anything. I know the 24 and the 2 were sideways in the infield. They came back in front of me and I was hoping I was going to get by them, but I didn't. It was real early in the race and I was just riding around. I know, because I've been in so many restrictor plate races, that right now isn't the time to be doing anything daring. I was just trying to bide my time. Obviously, when a wreck happens here it collects a lot of folks. How the wreck happened who knows? Everybody has their own speculation."