NASCAR Winston Cup Series Teleconference Transcript April 30, 2002 Pontiac Racing: Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway, May 4, 2002 Labonte's stats: Two top-10 finishes this year, currently 15th in points, three career...
NASCAR Winston Cup Series Teleconference Transcript
April 30, 2002
Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway, May 4, 2002
Labonte's stats: Two top-10 finishes this year, currently 15th in points, three career wins in Richmond.
Terry Labonte, driver of No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Jim Long, No. 5 Crew Chief
Part 1 of 2: Terry Labonte
ON TESTING AT RICHMOND AND THIS WEEKEND:
"I think everybody who has tested at Richmond is a little concerned. Right now it's really a one-groove race track. The tires that we have this time don't seem to have quite as much grip maybe as the ones we had a year ago. Something seems to be a little bit different. The track people were concerned about it and trying to come up with ways...they've been dragging tires on it; it did not seem to be getting any better. I don't know. It's hard to say, after the Busch race (after) those guys run on it whether or not the second groove comes in, we'll have to wait and see. Normally, it always does in Richmond; usually it's very competitive up there. But in the testing sessions it was definitely just a lone-lane race track, which was a little bit different than we've seen in the past."
TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON:
"I really feel good about our team and where it's going. We stubbed our toe a few times; we did last week in California. But overall I think we're really happy with the progress that we've made. It's been really difficult. Jim's come on board after the season ended last year and is really trying to get things organized, build some new race cars, continue to race every weekend. It makes it hard, trying to build new cars, get things where you need them and you still gotta race also. Of course, we tore up a car in Daytona, we tore up a car in Talladega, so that's put you behind. But overall I'm really happy with it and I think we've got a great team and I think we're going to just continue to improve as the year goes on. We've been having good pit stops and everything just seems to be coming together for us, and I'm really happy about that."
IT SEEMS LIKE EVERYBODY LIKES RICHMOND BECAUSE IT'S SUCH A RACY KIND OF PLACE:
"I know it. That's one thing I think everybody that has tested up there is a little bit concerned about. Just not knowing if that second groove is going to come in. What normally happens is the sealer actually wears off the lower groove. The sealer has so much grip, so the groove moves up. I don't know if that's going to be the case this time or not."
WHAT IS THE SEALER? WHAT DOES IT DO?
"It usually adds some grip to the track. The sealer they've had there in the past has always worked well. Real dark color, where normally the track probably at that age would not be near as dark. It makes it look like it's asphalt every time you go, but it's really the sealer that is that color. Normally it has a lot of grip and it seems to have pretty good grip in the groove. But once you slip up out a little bit, then you're kind of in trouble."
IT DOES SEEM LIKE THE CONCENSUS (AMONG DRIVERS) IS THAT RICHMOND IS THEIR FAVORITE RACE TRACK.
"It's a great track. I hope this works out OK, where the groove does move up like it normally does there. I don't see why it won't, but it seems like people have had more trouble testing there than they have in the past."
WHAT ABOUT THESE YOUNG DRIVERS? IT'S THE FOURTH STRAIGHT YEAR THAT WE'VE SEEN A ROOKIE WIN A RACE, WHICH IS UNHEARD OF:
"You know, it really is. The biggest difference today is you see young drivers that come in that have really an opportunity to be with top-notch teams right from the start. Jimmie (Johnson), he had a great run in California; they've run good all year. He's got a lot of Jeff's (Gordon) cars that he won races with last year that he's driving. Normally years ago when rookies would come in they would be with teams that aren't on top of the list as far as the equipment and everything else like that. Things are a lot different today. A lot of times for young drivers who come in and of course they're able to take advantage of that. Jimmie did a great job; he's done a great job all year long. The team has come in there and been awfully strong."
ON COMMUNICATION BETWEEN YOU AND CREW CHIEF:
"I knew Jim (Long); I'd never worked with him. I knew who he was; I'd seen him around. But I never even probably spoke to him, maybe hello once or twice. But we'd never worked together. When we interviewed him, I was very impressed. I could tell real quick that Jim was a very organized type of person. He seemed like a real people person. That's what we needed. He came on board after the season ended last year, so we kind of got a late start trying to rebuild this thing and get it back on track. He's come in there and just done a fantastic job. We're not where we need to be yet; there's no question about that, but we're definitely a lot closer than we were a year ago, and I think we're definitely going in the right direction. He's really done a good job, showing us some things that he felt like we were doing wrong and kind of getting us going in the right direction. It's been fun working with him. He's really an intense guy, he thinks all the time, he's like a machine. When you go into the truck in the morning he's got a plan for every day and everything. It's been fun."
WHAT DID HE SHOW YOU YOU WERE DOING WRONG?
"As far as looking at our cars and some things he felt weren't quite right on them. Our chassis probably were not what he thought we needed as far as they weren't the same as some of the teams in our complex. They build their own cars, we build our own cars here at Hendrick Motorsports. That can be good or it can be bad. The crew chief can determine how he wants those cars built. Our cars were probably a little bit different than the others. They were a little different from the others. We're trying to get them closer to those guys. We left a couple of them the same and we had to run them earlier in the year, and they didn't work quite as good as the new cars are. That and some stuff on the bodies he showed us that he didn't think like we were doing quite right. He's just kind of looked at every little thing that we do and tried to make everything better. You can't just come in and...a lot of times you don't just make one mistake. You're making maybe...you're off a little bit here, a little bit there, a little bit here. We worked on everything, from pit stops, to chassis, to setups, everything. And our pit stops are fantastic. We've got the same pit crew that we've had for the past 10 years. We could beat people out of the pits today. I just gotta say, Hey this is Jim, he's the guy that's getting these guys organized and making things happen."
THERE ARE SO MANY CHANGES ON THE CARS, IT'S NOT EVEN SOMETHING THAT THE VETERANS CAN GET USED TO. DOES THAT MAKE IT MORE OF AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD WITH THE YOUNG GUYS?
"A little bit, maybe. Today it seems like aero is more critical than it has ever been. You hear people talk about that during the race. You pick up that aero push and things like that. Everything is very important. The tires that we have today are not like the tires we ran a few years ago. That could maybe help a young guy coming in, because he never got used to the old tires. I don't know; it's hard to say. Those new guys have got great teams. Ryan Newman, the Penske team there; that's an unbelievable team they got. Of course, Jimmie, teaming up there with Jeff. Most of his cars are Jeff's old cars. I think the car that he won with Jeff's won a couple of races with a year ago. They've got really good equipment, good people."
SHOCK CHANGES, CHANGES IN THE BUMP STOPS, IS IT TAKING VETERANS LIKE YOURSELF FINDING THE RIGHT SETUP? THE YOUNG GUYS HAVE NOTHING TO GET USED TO SO THERE IS NO LEARNING CURVE?
"I don't know if it's... they've all done very well. I don't know, I don't have a really good explanation other than I've said. They've all got good teams, got good cars. They all came in there and picked up well on it."
IF YOU HAD COME ON BOARD WITH RICK HENDRICK WHEN YOU RAN YOUR FIRST RACE IN DARLINGTON A FEW YEARS BACK, WOULD IT HAVE BEEN EASIER TO BE A PART OF THE ESTABLISHMENT QUICKER?
"I don't know. I know when I ran my first race in Darlington I set the car up myself and drove the truck down there. Most guys don't have to do that today. But that's how years ago when everybody was starting out, that's how most people started out. There weren't the big teams. There were only a few top teams that won the races and had the established drivers and everybody else was kind of in the same boat. Things have changed. It's just different today than it was then."
WHAT KEEPS THE COMPETITIVE DRIVE OF GUYS LIKE YOURSELF AND SEVERAL OF THE OTHER VETERANS GOING IN W.C. SERIES:
"I tell you what, once you've won races and once you've won championships, there's not a better feeling than when you leave Sunday afternoon and you've come back and you've won the race or you had a great run, and been competitive and had a shot to win the race. I think just the desire to be back on top again, the desire to win that next race again, to win that next championship, that's what it's all about. That's what we work for. It's a very tough accomplishment to win the championship. That's hard to achieve that. That's what drives me, anyway, the desire to win another championship, a desire to win the race this weekend or next weekend, or the Winston, or whatever. That's what keeps you going."
DO YOU FEEL YOU STILL HAVE A LOT OF RACING LEFT IN YOU?
"I think so. I definitely feel like I do. And I think that I feel good about our team and the direction it's headed in. I think that we've got a team that realistically can win a race or two this year and finish in the top 10 in points. That's not our goal. Our goal is to win the championship, but if we win a race or two and we finish in the top 10, we've really got something that we're building on for next year. You're constantly always working hard to get better for the big picture, which is you want to win the championship."
Jim LongPart II