BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO IS THIS TEST SESSION INTERESTING FROM YOUR VIEWPOINT AS A DRIVER? "Well, you have to make it interesting I guess. It is the start of a new year for us and it is a little...
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO
IS THIS TEST SESSION INTERESTING FROM YOUR VIEWPOINT AS A DRIVER? "Well, you have to make it interesting I guess. It is the start of a new year for us and it is a little monotonous to go out there and run for two laps or three laps and maybe not pick up any speed or maybe pick up speed. So as far as the driver is concerned, it's not that exciting. But it does give our team an opportunity to come down here and learn a few things and get our program started for the new season. That's part of it too - not just the speed of today, but to get everybody together in the group to mesh and to communicate real good. It's not a race time, but it's a time for us to do that."
ARE THERE ANY BIG CHANGES WITHIN YOUR TEAM? "No, not really. We just added a few people. We have a couple of new road guys. We had a great off-season as far as personnel. Our key people are still there. We just moved a few people around for reasons of their own and to accommodate everybody."
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT THAT JOE GIBBS WAS RETURNING TO COACH THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS? "Joe called me Monday night actually and was talking to me. I think if I would have said, 'What do you want?' he would have told me. But it was around 10:00 at night when he called and I was in bed. So he said, 'I'll just talk to you tomorrow'. So first thing when I got there Tuesday morning - I got there early - he grabbed me and told me what the deal was. Obviously I was surprised, but after talking to him for 15 minutes and looking at it I could see where the timing was right for him to do that. I'm excited because I think it's a great opportunity for him and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing."
AREN'T YOU A DALLAS COWBOYS FAN? "I kind of go different ways depending on which way the wind is blowing. The other night with the Cowboys and the Panthers, I wasn't really pulling for either one of them really. If one of them won, I'd pull for them to go further, obviously. At the same time, I've been gone from Texas for so long I'm a fan of football and of the Cowboys, but I'm also a fan of the Panthers. I'll be a fan of Washington because of Joe Gibbs. It's no different than a lot of football fans are race fans because of Joe Gibbs. That'll be the same thing for me."
ON THE POINTS SYSTEM REVISION "I heard about that the other night. Actually Michael called me and said I needed to read the internet because this is what's probably going to happen. I was looking at it and my wife looked at it and I thought oh well, it is what it is."
WILL YOU CHANGE YOUR DRIVING TO WORK WITH THE NEW SYSTEM? "I think it's more or less 26 races, not 36 races. I still thing you're going to have to be consistent to be in the top 10 in points at the end. I don't think you'll change your strategy that way you'll just have a short season. Obviously you won't be able to rebound in the final third of the season like you used to if you did. But I still think you have to be consistent, obviously. You might be able to win five races but you still don't want to have five DNF's. That still plays in hand. I think we'll learn and strategize as we go. That's the way I think it is but it might change. Consistency is still going to play a part of it. For the final 10 races, you've still got to go out there and be consistent. You want to go out there and do the best you can. It's just going to be starting over. You'll have a 10-ace series instead of a 26-ace series. You might not win a race in the last 10 races but you might win the championship."
WILL THIS PROMOTE HARDER DRIVING? "I think you race hard anyway. You can race harder, but you're going to race hard no matter what. I think you'll just be conscious of the fact that you have 26 races to be in the top 10 and then you have 10 races to be first. You'll race as hard as you can. But you still don't want to make mistakes. You don't want to go out there and take a chance. What happens if during the last 10 races if the guy (winner) doesn't win a race but the points could still be wrapped up one race before the year is over. It could still happen because there's only 180 points. It could happen in nine races if somebody builds up a lead just like somebody loses a lead that way. So it'll be interesting to see. I still think you have to be consistent. The champion might not necessarily win a race during the last 10 races.
"I'm not really for it to be honest with you. But it is what it is and we can talk about it from now until November. But until November gets here, you don't know. It might be the best thing in the world. It might be the best thing for ratings. It might be the best, but right now we don't know. Our goal right now is to just go out there and be in the top 10 after 26 races and be first after 10. What would even be better would be to win the last 10 races and have it wrapped up with three races to go. That would be our goal whether it was 36 races of 10 races or 20 races. That's out goal is to go out there and do that. If we can accomplish that, that's great. It's all speculation. People have their own opinions. Right now, I'm saying what I'm saying but tomorrow everybody might think differently. The main thing is not to worry about it now because it's nothing to worry about. It's just time to go on."
DO YOU THINK MORE PEOPLE WILL BE WILLING TO GAMBLE ON GAS MILEAGE DURING THE FIRST 26 RACES BECAUSE ALL THEY REALLY NEED TO DO IS GET INTO THE TOP 10? "I still think 26 races is a long way to go. I'm not very good on history. But you could probably look back and see that the top 10 didn't really change a whole lot after 26 races. Maybe a few, but the top five probably didn't change. I would say that that would happen to a certain extent. But I still think you're going to be racing to win during the first 26 races and be in the top 10. It's no different than it was for 36 races. If I had to guess, probably only two or three guys changed positions in the top 10 after 26 races. It wasn't done by just one race or by gas mileage or whatever. You've still got to have a fast car and have a good team. You're not going to just get gas all the time and not tires and end up being in the top 10 in points by doing that. You won't get yourself in that position."
ON THE NEW TIRES "We haven't tested on the new tires as far as this year goes. From what I do understand, the tires are obviously going to be softer and they will give up more and you will want to have a little bit more tire management that you've had in the past. If that's the case, hopefully we'll get back to where gas mileage racing won't just be gas mileage racing. Hopefully what will take place is that if you run 45 - 50 laps, for instance, on a set of tires, you can come in and get four tires and be faster than the guy who gets no tires. If they have a 50 or 60-lap run, you'll be able to pass him instead of just following him as it has been in the past. Kansas is probably a good example where if a guy gets two tires or no tires is faster than the guy who gets four tires. And example opposite of that would be where you get four tires, you'll be able to go out there and pass the guy who gets two tires or no tires."
WHAT SORT OF INFORMATION DID YOU GET FROM LAST WEEK'S SESSION THAT YOU CAN USE THIS WEEK AND HOW DO YOU HANDLE THAT? "Testing here is a little bit ho-hum in a low of ways just because it's not really is not quite what you find in other places as far as the driver is concerned. But you do get to check out what the other teams are doing and you get to size yourself up with the competition for this race (Daytona 500). You find your weaknesses in your organization. When you put people in places and it doesn't work out here, chances are that it won't work out other places. But you do get to see other teams and see what's new. It's just not the same as when we go to Las Vegas in a couple of weeks. It's different because speeds there get more toward the whole program instead of just aero or body issues or engine like we have here."
HOW WILL YOU PLAN YOUR TEST SESSIONS THIS YEAR TO CORRESPOND WITH THE NEW POINTS SYSTEM? We have talked about that a little bit and that's something we are concerned with. With the new testing schedule, we've got to figure out how we don't use them all up prior to those (last) 10 races if need be. You could be in two different situations. Maybe you need to use them in order to get to the last 10 races. Or, if you're good enough throughout the season, maybe you don't need to until the last 10 to get better. The only thing with that is you don't want to burn yourself out toward the end of the season with 10 races plus three or four tests. Each team is going to look at it differently. (Jeff) Gordon might look at it differently than a new team that needs to test a few races early to get their communication going to start off the season. It'll balance itself out with the different teams."
WHAT DOES YOUR TEAM NEED TO DO BETTER TO IMPROVE THIS SEASON? "Last year we had good stretches and bad stretches. Our consistency was off some last year. The middle part of the year we struggled with things. By the last third of the season we were gaining on it. We just need to get our consistency back. You're still going to have that for the first 26 races."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO DO WELL AT THE DAYTONA 500? "It's real important. We want to start the year off right. We'd like to come down here and have a good week. It can go either way. I've seen guys win the race here and not win any more races all year. Or, you can come down here and finish dead last like Tony (Stewart) and I have, you can still come back and finish in the top 10 in points. It doesn't make you or break you, but it seems like it makes it easier. Joe Gibbs has won this before with Dale Jarrett. I've been fortunate enough to win some other big races but this is one I haven't won. It would be great to win this one."