NASCAR Teleconference with Winston Cup driver Terry Labonte, No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Quick Notes: Labonte is the defending pole winner at Texas Motor Speedway His last points win took place at Texas in March 1999 He is coming off...
NASCAR Teleconference with Winston Cup driver Terry Labonte, No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
Labonte is the defending pole winner at Texas Motor Speedway
His last points win took place at Texas in March 1999
He is coming off a 6th place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway
Since you hail from Corpus Christi, Texas, why have you adapted so well to Texas Motor Speedway (TMS)?
"We've been out there and tested some and we tested before they ever ran the first race out there. Of course then they re-did the track. It was just one of those places that we went to and we had a real good combination and we just seemed to run pretty good. I really don't have any other reason other than that. We just have a pretty good combination when we go out there."
With your up-and-down start to the season, do you hope your momentum from Bristol will continue on for the rest of the season?
"Well, you know we had a top five in Atlanta, and then a sixth place at Bristol, and we've had two DNF's also. We have been a little bit up and down. I really feel like we have a good team. I think we have some good tracks coming up for us that we can continue to have some good runs."
Randy Dorton gave you guys some great engines in Atlanta - five of the Hendrick engines finished in the top eight. Are you expecting the same horsepower when you get to Texas?
"We always feel like we have good engines. Atlanta was a little bit different situation because you did see several engine failures down there. We didn't have any out of all the Hendrick engines. We have a great engine program. Those guys do a great job. We always expect good power and good engines."
How does a veteran like you adapt to the new tire compounds this season?
"We've run good on some of them. At a few races we kind of missed the set-up a little bit. It's different for everybody. A lot of times what happens is that the set-up you had for last year, when you have a new tire, it doesn't work quite as good. Other times, if you're off a little bit, it might work in your favor. It's definitely a little bit different. I would say you've just kind of got to go into it with an open mind. What we ran last year might not necessarily work this time."
Have you heard that some of the drivers might skip the Talladega race due to the safety issues?
"I haven't really talked to anybody about that. I heard a rumor about that. You hear rumors about all kinds of stuff too. I heard (one) that I was going to quit, that I was going to retire. So, I don't believe anything I hear, and I don't believe half of what I read, and I believe three-fourths of what I see. I don't know. It's just a rumor. There's nothing to it."
Are you comfortable going to Talladega with the safety situation right now?
"I'm not a big fan of the rules package. It seemed to work pretty good at Talladega last time, but obviously anytime it bunches the cars up even more than they're bunched-up, it kind of creates a little bit of a on-the-edge-of-your-seat situation there. One mistake could easily wipeout 25 cars. There's always that risk."
Do you think the Texas track is more seasoned now and coming into its own?
"It's a good racetrack and I look forward to going out there all the time. The first time out there, they had some problems. But after that, they got it straightened out and it's been a good track ever since."
Is it possible that the new tire compound could allow a second groove to get worked in (to the track) at Texas?
"I'll tell you what happens. When you look back at the Atlanta racetrack when they repaved it, it was just a one-lane racetrack. Now, you look at it and they run all over the track now. What happens a lot of times when they have new asphalt that there's so much grip on the bottom, that's kind of where everybody has to run. When that grip goes away, which is probably taking place at Texas, then you have a tendency to see the groove widen out and more side-by-side racing. So you look at that racetrack today, and the asphalt is kind of white looking compared to eight years ago when it was real dark looking. So it's definitely a little bit different. Now where are you going to see side-by-side racing? You're going to see a lot more than you've ever seen there before, I'm sure."
Things are looking good for the entire Hendrick Racing organization this year. Can you tell us what brought this on?
"I think everybody's just worked hard trying to get our whole team back on track. We work with the other teams probably more so in the past year than we ever have. So it's just been a big effort there to try to get the whole organization back to where we want to be."
Do you think the season is too long, or do you think it's just about right?
"For me, it probably doesn't really matter. It's probably a little bit tougher on the guys working on the cars and the truck drivers, and things like that. But as far as for the drivers, I don't really think it bothers them. I haven't run any this year and I don't intend to, but in the past several races on off weekends I ran some Busch races, so I didn't really have any off-weekends."
Since Texas was blueprinted off of Charlotte, can you tell us the differences and do you set-up different?
"They're a lot different really. I would hate to think that somebody tried to copy that track exactly because they didn't do a very good job of it. The tracks are pretty similar appearance-wise, but they're a lot different driving the tracks. The set-ups are different. There's not a whole lot of similarities there other than appearance-wise. When you stand up in the bleachers and look at it, it looks a lot like Charlotte and Atlanta. But those tracks are a lot different really."
Do you set-up the suspension differently and do you use a different type of motor? How do you approach it?
"Every track we go to is a little bit different. Texas is a little different than Charlotte, and it's different than Atlanta. You don't run the same set-up at every track. You always try to get your car as good as you can wherever you are. Engine combination would probably be the same as you run in Charlotte or Atlanta."
Are you using the HANS device or any type of neck protection? "I've been using the HANS device. I didn't use it at Daytona, but I've used it at every race since then. I'm real happy with it. I think it's a great system. The thing about it is you can't just put it on and get in the car and go. We've had to do some modifying to the seat to get the thing to work. We're still in the process of working on some new seat ideas to some up with to make our seats a little bit better. But we're really happy with the HANS thing. Actually at Bristol during Happy Hour, I ran half of it with it and half of it without it. In fact I've gotten so used to it that I feel uncomfortable when I don't have it on. I think it's a pretty good deal."
Can you comment on last weekend's race at Bristol?
"Well, I'll tell you what. I think everybody was happy that the Wood Brothers won that race. It's been a long time since they've won one and those guys have been a big part of this sport for many years. So, it was pretty exciting to see them win."
You were right behind Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon when they got into it. What happened?
"Looked like they got together and Tony spun out and it looked like he caught him (Gordon) on pit road and he spun him out. You saw as much as I did. I learned a long time ago that you don't get involved in other people's fights."
Have you had an opportunity to view the new garage area at Martinsville, and will that be an advantage for the teams?
"Oh yeah, I'm sure it's going to make it easier to pass and easier on the brakes and everything. I mean, no I haven't seen it. Good, I'm glad they got a garage 'cause you won't be standing out in the sun all the time."
With the improvements at Martinsville like the pits all on one stretch now, is there an improvement they could make from a driver's prospective?
"It's an okay track. I'd like to see them make it a little bit bigger. They've got one pit road and that's good. They built garages, that's good. It's Martinsville. It's always been Martinsville. It's a half-mile track. It's hard to pass and your car's got to work good. You've got to be careful not to wear your brakes out. It's one of the tracks that's a pretty big challenge really when you go there and run."
When looking at set-ups and that kind of thing, is Martinsville pretty much one-of-a-kind?
"Yeah, pretty much."
What are some of the factors that knocked your team down a peg compared to what you're trying to do now?
"Well there's a lot of things that happen. People are very important and the chemistry of the team. A lot of times you'll have a model change and maybe you had the other model figured out just right and it takes a while to get the new car working like you want it to. Seems like we have new tires, different tires all the time. So that throws a wrinkle into it. So it's just can be a combination of things. When you get back on the right track, and things go right, it seems like sometimes you can't do anything wrong. And other times it seems like you can't do anything right when you're off a little bit. It's just kind of a hard question to answer. There's just not any one thing that turns a team around. It's always a combination of things."
When you heard rumors that you were going to get out of racing, how did that affect you?
"I just laughed about it. Last year when I got hurt and sat out a couple of races, my mother called me and she said she'd heard it on the radio on the Charlotte station or something, and she said she thought I would have called her or my dad first. And I said that yeah, well I probably would. I wouldn't put much in that, so I don't know. Unfortunately in our sport, there are people that would rather create the news than report it. You run across that from time to time, and that's just part of the deal. Everybody knows it and you just have to live with it."
How many more years do you think you want to race?
"Oh, I don't know. I'd like to race five or six more years."
Since Daytona, have you seen a marked increase in the number of drivers that are using the HANS device, and was that the kicker to make you wear it?
"I had it before Daytona. We went down there and didn't have it really worked out with our seat and everything to make it comfortable. Since Daytona, we had been working on this deal a little bit and kind of got it figured out and got the seat modified to where it works. We worked on getting in and out of the car with it on because that's a concern in case of a fire or something like that. We got all that worked out and I've been wearing it ever since. I actually studied a video that a gentleman gave to us that showed some crash dummies and things that really happen in an accident in actual racecars. I took that video out to the shop and had all the guys come into the break room and we watched it. And now everybody there realizes what takes place and what we have to do on these cars to make them better. We've been real happy with the HANS thing, and I think it's a great device. It probably doesn't work for everybody because everybody's not built quite the same. It fits me good, so we didn't have to have one custom made or anything. I just got one off the shelf and it fits good and it works good. The folks from Atlanta came to our shop and worked with us on it a little bit. So we're real happy with it."
Can you understand the reluctance to use it?
"I think the reluctance to use it is only by people who have not actually seen some of this crash video that's out there. You really see what your body goes through during impact. A lot of people have seen that, and a lot of people don't know. You see a lot of people today that look at each other's cars. There are a lot of things that still, we can do to make them better and we're in the process of doing that. It's always hard to do anything overnight because you're used to doing things (one way) for 20 years and to make changes it hard to do. We've been gradually doing this to try to make our car better with the seating and the seatbelts and the HANS thing. It's been a gradual thing."
Have other drivers and/or NASCAR talked to you about this?
"No NASCAR hasn't talked to me about it. I have talked to some other drivers about it and some other guys are wearing it and they really like it. Some of the guys are wearing six-point belts now, which are better than five-point belts that we've been using in our cars forever. So yeah, you see a lot of the drivers and crewmembers looking at different cars. It would be kind of unusual for some other teams to come over here and look at your car to see how you've got it done, but when it comes to the safety issue, everybody's welcome to look at each other's cars. Everybody's in this thing together and we all want to make things a little bit better if we can."
Has anybody asked you about Talladega yet?
"Oh yeah, that's an off-weekend, isn't it?"
Are you guys a little uneasy about going back to Talladega with the rules like they are now?
"I don't really think anybody is a big fan of the way the rules are. The last race at Talladega was obviously a pretty exciting race there. Daytona was a little different situation. I don't know. I don't have the answer. I wish somebody could wave a magic wand and fix everything. I don't know that person and I don't know what the answer would be. I'm sure there are folks that are going to go down there and just ride around in the back to try and miss the 'big wreck'. Hopefully there's not going to be a big wreck."
Is that getting scarier every time?
"It's kind of a situation where you run the whole race on the edge of your seat because you know that one mistake can collect ten or 15 cars, maybe more. You always like to be in control of everything and a lot of times in those situations, you're not because you can get caught up in somebody else's wreck and it doesn't take but one mistake. And anybody can make a mistake. It's hard to run 500 miles like that and somebody not make a little bobble or something."
Is that asking too much of the drivers?
"Well, the thing that's so different at that race track than the others is that the cars are bunched up so much closer. It would have happened with this rule package it's made to feel that much closer together. I know that they were trying to get back to the old drafting days and things like that. I watch some old videos now and then, and it doesn't quite look like that."
When you won at Texas in '99, you said you had had a lousy test. How was your recent test session at TMS?
"Actually it wasn't too bad. It's hard to tell. Sometimes when you go test, you think you're pretty good. But in '99 when we tested there, we just had one problem after the next. We went back home and got it all ironed out. It was a pretty good test, actually."
Why is everyone at Hendrick working together so much now?
"We have different people than we used to have and the people that work there today seem to get along a lot better than the ones in the past. So that's been the biggest difference, just the personalities. Rick (Hendrick) always encouraged everybody to try to work together the whole time, but that wasn't always the case. Last year and this year, with Robby Loomis on board and Gary (DeHart) back and Tony Furr down there and those guys. The engineering departments this year have worked really close with all the teams, so it's been a lot different."
What things have you noticed that are different in personalities?
"We're definitely a stronger team than we were a year ago. If you look at all three teams today compared to where we were a year ago, I think there's no comparison. I think we're a much better organization from everybody working together and working hard."
-Team Monte Carlo