Note: The Pontiac Grand Prix brand is enjoying one of its finest seasons ever in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. After 29 races, Pontiac drivers have combined to post six wins, 36 top-five and 74 top-10 finishes. At the same point last year,...
Note: The Pontiac Grand Prix brand is enjoying one of its finest seasons ever in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. After 29 races, Pontiac drivers have combined to post six wins, 36 top-five and 74 top-10 finishes. At the same point last year, Pontiac drivers had combined to post two wins, 13 top-five and 40 top-10 finishes. Much of that success can be attributed to Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Bobby Labonte (four victories) and Tony Stewart (one).
BOBBY LABONTE (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "Pontiac's been exciting to race for. Everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing took on the Pontiac nameplate at Joe Gibbs Racing a few years ago and we've improved each year with the Grand Prix. Everything we've ever asked for we've been able to get as far as support from Pontiac. I hope the awareness has grown over the past few years. We feel like we've made strides with our race team and the race car itself in getting to the front. We're excited we've been able to do that and Pontiac has been right there with us to enjoy the ride. We just keep improving. I hope the relationship can continue for years to come because we've had such a good time. Everybody at Pontiac is great to work with and easy to work with. We're definitely excited about Pontiac and we think the Grand Prix is a great brand name and we want to make it even more positive for them in the future."
HOW DO YOU DRIVE DIFFERENTLY HERE AT TALLADEGA CONSIDERING TH CIRCUMSTANCES? "I don't know. You just have to go out there and do the best you can. You can think you make the right move and it's the wrong move. You can think you made the wrong move and it turns out to be the right move. It's not like any other race track we go to, of course, here and Daytona are the same thing. You've got to different things. Your racing here is different than it was last weekend at Charlotte or next weekend at Rockingham. You've really got to be looking out your rear view mirror a lot. Side, side, front, it's like constant full circle. If you've got a great car you can't pull away. It's just a different type of racing. It's close racing and it's action-packed. It's just different than what we're used to. It's not that it's not exciting and not fun, because it can be a times, but other times it can be stressful when you're thinking, 'Well, I think I made the right move,' and then all of a sudden the guy on the other side of the table with the checkered he made the move and -- boom -- you're at the back. It can be kind of frustrating in that sense of it. I guess if it wasn't like that it wouldn't be much fun, either."
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN YOUR SUCCESS ON RESTRICTOR PLATE TRACKS? "It's a team effort. Joe Gibbs Racing has a great restrictor plate program. When you have a fast race car here it makes my job a lot easier. At the same time, I don't have a mindset here, I don't have a game plan because you've got to have a game plan every lap basically. Everybody is different every lap. It all goes back to today. Certainly the race car is going to put you in position. Drivers don't have as much to do with it today. Starting tomorrow, it's going to be a little different. If you've got a good, fast race car and you use your head and use some patience, you stick around for 500 miles, that's what the game plan is -- to be around at the end. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't here."
ARE THE AERODYNAMICS OF THE DIFFERENT MAKES ENHANCED HERE? "I don't think so. This is more what the attitude of your car is a lot of times like today. Tomorrow, drafting, I've been here before and been a second off the pace and you can be in the top pack in five or 10 laps. I think you can kind of throw it out the window on a day like today (qualifying). It's not quite as (crucial) as say some other tracks we go to. Some places we go to where downforce is important, you get all you can get."
TONY STEWART (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix): "We've got all the support we need through Pontiac. All their people really care about us down to the individual people. A lot of time you work with companies and it's easy to get caught in the pot with everybody else. But everyone at Pontiac has been very good about taking care of our special needs individually and making sure if there are any concerns we have they address them. The nice thing is we haven't had any concerns. Everything has been really smooth-sailing for us this year. It's been nice to have Pontiac's support like that and to know that the individuality that they put toward us means a lot to us at Joe Gibbs Racing."
HOW DO YOU PREPARE DIFFERENTLY FOR A RACE AT TALLADEGA? "I guess it's kind of a weird weekend because you spend all day today running two laps only and you won't see anybody for the whole day. Tomorrow morning starts and you see everybody. Not only do you see them, but they're all packed in right next to you. Like Bobby said, it's definitely exciting. I know we made a special effort for this race to make sure we made an attachment to the back of the car to put a mower deck on it just in case I go through the grass again. It just proves at a restrictor plate track like this that the boundaries are the outside wall and whatever is furthest to the inside. The grass is in place. It adds an element of excitement, I guess."
HOW MUCH HAS BOBBY LABONTE ACCELERATED YOUR LEARNING CURVE? "Beyond the shadow of a doubt, there's no doubt in my mind, having Bobby on my side this year has helped my learning curve tenfold. To have the knowledge that he has is immeasurable. I guess if he ran in the back of the pack it would be a little different. With him running up front, he knows what it takes to run up front. That knowledge, he's been gracious enough to lend to me. He's showed me the ropes. A lot of it is trial and error and there's a lot of times when it's that trial part and you make the error it costs you the day. Bobby's told me a lot of things this year. Every week he tells me something about staying out of trouble and that's five or 10 more laps I can stay on the race track and 10 more laps that I get experience and learn. I don't care how much talent you start this series with when you get a guy like him on your side you're just going to multiply it."
DID LEARNING THE DRAFT IN THE IRL HELP YOU WITH THE DRAFT HERE? "Actually, no. The thing about the IRL cars is that you never ran close enough. You don't have near the center that you have here. You may see two guys together and maybe three guys in the same picture frame on TV in an IRL race. You're going to see 43 of us on a picture frame on Sundays (here). You have cars on both sides of you at times and a car in front of you and a car behind you. We're talking inches behind you and inches in front of you. There's nothing in the IRL that can help you simulate that. There's so many things to learn by having cars beside you. It's pretty easy to learn what happens when there's a car in front of you. It's pretty easy to learn what happens when there's a car behind you. But when you start putting cars beside you along with that, that's when it starts getting a little tricky."
HOW CLOSE DID YOU COME TO LOSING IT IN THE SPRING WHEN YOU GOT IN THE GRASS OFF TURN TWO? "As long as I didn't try to turn it I was all right. I tried to turn it one time to ease it over to the backstretch and get it back on the race track and it started to get sideways so I just straightened it back up. I said, 'Well, there's asphalt clear down to turn three if I can just make it in a straight line down to there we're all right.' We had a lot of rain that weekend and the grass was real slippery. As long as you just let it go straight, it was pretty good. It proves that Pontiacs can drive in the grass, gravel, concrete, asphalt, you can drive them anywhere."