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 2 of 2: Jim Long
(seven-year veteran crew chief, teamed up with Terry and Hendrick Motorsports back in December):
THE CHEMISTRY BETWEEN YOU TWO; IN SHORT TIME YOU'VE GELLED QUITE EASILY:
"Yes, things are going really well. I didn't know what I was going to be up against when I came over here back in December and we're a little bit hit-and-miss right now. We had some good races, some bad races. But I'm starting to learn what Terry needs and we can talk openly about, Hey we need to go in this direction or that direction. It's been going well. It's getting better and better every race."
WHAT DID YOU BRING AS CREW CHIEF TO THE ORGANIZATION AND TERRY?
"I think one of the big things probably is a new face. Every time somebody new comes into an organization as a crew chief or a driver change or forming a new team, there seems to be new life and I think I brought some of that new life into them. The attitudes have been getting better. These guys will work their butts off trying to get whatever we need or any direction we want to go in. I've been working on getting more and more like the 24 and the 48 and the 25 cars so we can share information, and that's been really helpful."
HAVE YOU FOUND THAT OPEN LINE OF COMMUNICATION EXISTING AMONG ALL FOUR TEAMS?
"Yeah, oh, yeah. People think, Well, Jeff Gordon gets the best of everything here, especially his performance over the last few years. I'll tell you there's not a day that I can't walk up into Robbie Loomis' office or Chad's (Knaus) or the 25 car shop and just copy their notes. We can share anything we want to share. Wind tunnel data, engine date, everything, shocks, the whole nine yards. We did quite a bit of that. I get a sheet every week of everybody's setups, how they're going to qualify; they're starting point, anyway, and they get mine. I've got more information than I know what to do with."
THE RESOURCES AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS ARE SECOND TO NONE. DOES THAT MAKE A CREW CHIEF'S LIFE THAT MUCH EASIER?
"I didn't know what I was missing. I've been on single-car teams for so long as a crew chief and when you get lost or you struggle a little bit, you have to guess which direction to go in to make it better, or make that style track better. A good example is this weekend. We struggled a little bit this weekend, but Jimmie Johnson wins the race. We can go and say, Hey, this is what we had. Oh, I see the differences between the two setups or the cars or whatever. It helps a lot, especially when you get turned around and you're not going in the right direction."
HOW HAS THE JOB DESCRIPTION CHANGED SINCE 1994:
"It changes every day. I probably spend more of my time compared to 1994, '95. I spend the majority of my day doing overall planning about what's going to happen six months from now. That goes to our cars, to our aero and the chassis, and setups and just different things. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. And the people when I come to this team are so talented it amazes (me) that I ever competed against them. I delegate a lot of authority, I say, This is your department, you can handle it, this is what I'm looking for; in each one of the areas, whether it be fabrication or mechanical. These guys have taken the ball and run with it."
IS YOUR PREFERENCE TO WORK WITH A DRIVER WITH EXPERIENCE OR WITH A YOUNGER DRIVER YOU CAN MOLD YOURSELF?
"I've worked with probably one younger driver, Buckshot (Jones), back when I was with Stivola and we were on a limited schedule. Terry is an extremely talented driver. And he has still got the drive, he's still got the urge, and it is kind of neat to be with drivers like Terry because they can tell you...they have a little bit more feedback. They can tell you how they like a car to feel. It's just a little bit nicer situation. I've not really had the opportunity to work with that many young drivers, so I don't know what I would be up against if I did have that opportunity."
WHAT ABOUT THE YOUTH MOVEMENT? FOUR STRAIGHT YEARS THAT A ROOKIE HAS WON A RACE. THAT'S UNHEARD OF:
"Yeah, that's pretty amazing. Things are a lot different even I mean the last five years they were...they're a lot different. If you look at all those teams that got young drivers that are performing right now, they are multi-team, big operations. And when they bring those young drivers in, they've already set the playing field for them. They've got cars built, this is the direction we're going in. So they're more prepared than they used to be five or 10 years ago, so they've got better equipment right off the getgo. If you look back 10 years ago usually a new driver... the only chance he'd have an opportunity of breaking into this field would be to a single-car team that was starting up from scratch with no resources. And they'd bring him in and if everything was just right he'd remotely have results. But now they're coming into multi-team organizations like Childress' and Roush and Penske and here with Jimmie Johnson. They come in and they've got the latest and greatest of everything. The transition is a lot better now than it used to be."
JIMMIE WON THIS WEEKEND. AS PART OF THE HENDRICK GROUP, DO YOU FEEL A SENSE OF PRIDE?
"I do, I don't know if I'd put it exactly like that, but yeah, I'm really proud to see any one of these guys win. Really. Whether it be Terry, Jeff or Jerry or Jimmie. And part of that (is) you give them information, they give you information and we're all helping each other. Even, like I told somebody earlier, we struggled a little bit his weekend and they won the race. I can take what they've done and build it into my program and make my program better. And it goes the other way around. We finished good in Martinsville and some of the teams struggled in Martinsville and they can take what I learned there and build from."
A LOT OF THESE YOUNG DRIVERS HAVE YOUNG CREW CHIEFS:
"There's always new talent coming into this business. Like I've told you...they're coming into organizations that they have veteran crew chiefs, veteran drivers that have built a notebook for these race tracks. And they have taken all the good from everybody that's in that organization and made their deal work. They're definitely talented, there's no doubt about that. I don't think they're any more talented than Terry is, and if you give Terry the right situation I'm sure Terry can win a race. that's our plan."
YOU'RE FROM THE TOLEDO AREA. IS IT MORE DIFFICULT TO COME FROM THE NORTHWEST OHIO AREA THAN AROUND THE CAROLINAS AND BREAK INTO NASCAR RACING?
"I've been in this business a long time. It's probably harder today than it was back when I got into Winston Cup racing. I don't know exactly how to answer that. You would not believe the resumes that I get everyday. We get stacks and stacks of them. We put them in a computer. People are trying to get into this business, they want in this business. Back then I was just at the right place at the right time, and that's usually how you end up getting in this business."
WHEN YOU'RE WORKING WITH AN OLDER DRIVER SET IN HIS WAYS, DO YOU HAVE TO GENTLY INTRODUCE CHANGES TO THE CAR THAT YOU KNOW IN YOUR HEART WILL MAKE IT MORE COMFORTABLE FOR HIM TO DRIVE?
"Well, it depends on the driver. In Terry's case he's won races and championships. I'm not trying to get Terry to do anything different than he's done over the years. It's just trying to find the little thing that makes him better and just making the cars like the other teams' cars has made him better right off the getgo. And that's really all I've done."
THERE HAVE BEEN SO MANY CHANGES WITH SHOCKS, SPRINGS, ETC., IT SEEMS TO HAVE TAKEN SOME OF THE VETERANS LONGER TO ACCLIMATE TO THE NEW RULES:
"I think if you look back through the last 10 years or so of racing, Goodyear has made a lot of changes to their tire to try to make it better, more safer, comfortable, and they've done a good job. Every time they do a tire change or they do a new body aero change somebody in that camp, whether it be Chevrolet or Ford, or older drivers or younger drivers, start struggling. I don't think you can put a blanket over it and say this is the reason they're struggling. I think it has too much to do with the team, too much to do with how good their cars are, how good their motor program is. Look at Roush. The whole Roush camp is... out of the blue they made changes, and I don't think it's the crew chief changes that really made them better. I think it 's probably ....they probably made a lot more changes we don't know about. I don't think you can just say yeah, a new tire, and the older drivers are struggling. Some of them are, some of them aren't."
Terry LabontePart I