SLUGGER LABBE (Crew Chief No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger) NOTE: Labbe joined the Evernham Motorsports team with driver Jeremy Mayfield in mid-December after four seasons at DEI. Both of Mayfield's Dodge Chargers were in the top 10 in ...
SLUGGER LABBE (Crew Chief No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger)
NOTE: Labbe joined the Evernham Motorsports team with driver Jeremy Mayfield in mid-December after four seasons at DEI. Both of Mayfield's Dodge Chargers were in the top 10 in Wednesday morning's practice session at DIS.
"We just wanted to come down here and make sure the Charger was driving good and we had competitive speeds. It's been pretty good so far. It's been driving good and the times have been decent. That was the big thing that Ray wanted to work on this winter -- to step up the speedway program. The body side of it, they've done a lot of work, and they've done a lot of work on the motor side. When I got there, all the guys asked me to show them what I wanted them to cut. We started cutting on stuff because they knew they had to get better. It's been a lot of hard work. I started work on Dec. 13, and we've been going strong, paying attention to every little detail. It's been going good. Everyone is excited. The guys in the shop have been busting their tail. It was nice to call back yesterday and tell the guys we had a good day. It makes the winter a lot easier. Both cars are running really good. The only problem with that is we've got to decide which car to bring back for the Daytona 500. That's a good problem to have, having both cars in the top 10 on the speed chart both days is a good thing."
WHY DID YOU LEAVE DEI?
"Well, they weren't very happy about me leaving. That's part of racing. I saw where Ray had the offer over here, and I wanted to come. I worked with Michael Waltrip for four years. There's no big secret that when you come restrictor-plate racing you've got to have everything perfect. You've got to have the best body, the best motor, your car's got to travel good, it's got to stay out of the air for a long time, you've got to have the best brakes to get on pit road, the best transmission and clutch to get off pit road, the best pit crew. The two big things I've tackled this winter is restrictor-plate racing and getting the pit crew going. We had issues, and we've worked on that. I've been out there every day with them. We've seen good results. We've got to make sure the pit crew stays competitive, and I think they will be when we come down here for the Budweiser Shootout. They'll be on their game. They're ready for it, and they understand how important they are in winning these races down here. I want Evernham to win the first race in the Charger. They've done a lot of work, and the guys see the picture I have. They want to come down here and win this race."
WOULD THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT COUNT AS THE FIRST WIN?
"If you win a race at Daytona it's big. Any race you win down here is important. I've won quite a few down here, and it's a good feeling -- especially if you're down here for two weeks. I've never won the Shootout, but I've won the 125s, and that's a good feeling. That's a big shot in the arm. I think when we come down here we'll be competitive."
IS THE DRIVER PART OF THAT TOTAL PACKAGE AT DAYTONA?
"They tell you it's simple, but he's got to hit his marks. He's got to shift at the right point. It's not easy by any means. You see it in Jeremy's eyes. He's fired up. He's ready to go. He's got to be motivated. I told Jeremy I'm an open and honest person and if there's something going on I'm going to tell him about it. We're going to work on it together because if we don't tell each other there's a problem we won't get better. We've got to communicate and work together and that's something we're going to work on, but so far everything has been great. If he says something and I don't quite understand it, I've got Kenny Francis (team director) here. I can't stress it enough. The whole thing to this thing was to have Kenny stay. I wouldn't have done this if Kenny hadn't stayed. Me and Kenny worked together before at Yates. We're real good friends. We've known each other for a long time. I wanted Kenny to stay here to be my right-hand man. He agreed to it. Everything is cool and we're looking forward to it. If we can come out of here (Daytona 500) with a top 10, we'll really be looking forward to California and Las Vegas. We want to make a statement and start the season off strong. We've got a bunch of testing coming up. We're going to test at the first six tracks. We're going to start the season off right."
HOW IMPORTANT WILL THE LAS VEGAS AND CALIFORNIA TESTS BE FOR THE CHARGER?
"Tommy Baldwin is in Atlanta today tire testing the 9 car. That's going to help us out a lot. We're going to Nashville again next week. We've done a lot of preparation in the offseason to be ready when we get to Vegas and California. Both Evernham cars ran good last year at Vegas. The 9 car really started off strong. We want to make sure the same thing this year."
HOW'D YOU GET THE NICKNAME SLUGGER?
"The day I was born my grandmother gave me a pair of pajamas that had little baseballs on it that said Little Slugger. Since that day it stuck. People say my name Richard, and I won't even look. I've been accustomed to being called Slugger since day one."
WHAT'S YOUR VERSION OF THE STORY ABOUT THE TRIP TO THE DODGE DINNER AT LPGA INTERNATIONAL TUESDAY NIGHT?
"Jeremy is late for everything. The itinerary I had for last night said it started at 6 o'clock. I asked him about 4:30 yesterday what time he wanted to leave and he said quarter to seven. I told him it started at 6, but he said we'd be all right. I was sitting in the lobby and at quarter to seven and no Jeremy. At five minute 'til, no Jeremy. I called him up and he said he was coming. We were leaving the motel and we needed to turn left to go back toward the racetrack. All the other traffic was going right. I told him to cut through the median, but he said there was a sign with a big X that said not to enter. I told him it was all right. He went through the intersection and turned left. We made it about a quarter of a mile and saw the blue light flashing. We started laughing in the car. The cop came up to the window and asked for Jeremy's license. Jeremy asked him if he was speeding, and the cop said no, that he ran through the do not enter sign. Jeremy pointed toward me and said, 'He told me to do it.' I knew then that I had this deal figured out, but the cool part was he listened. That's the way I feel about all these guys on this team. They're dedicated to winning and if I told them to throw a trashcan across the parking lot, I think they'd do it. They're dedicated to do whatever it takes to win, and that's a good attitude to have."