This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Michael Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe. As the series moves to Texas Motor Speedway for the Samsung/Radio Shack ...
This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Michael Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe.
As the series moves to Texas Motor Speedway for the Samsung/Radio Shack 500, Waltrip sits in 4th place in the point standings.
RICHARD 'SLUGGER' LABBE:
AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON, IS 4TH PLACE IN THE STANDINGS WHERE YOU THOUGHT YOU WOULD BE? "Our goal was to be in the top 10, so to be 4th in the points is definitely better than we thought. It's a step in the right direction, that's for sure."
WERE YOU AROUND WHEN DALE EARNHARDT JR AND HIS CREW CHIEF GOT TOGETHER TO DISCUSS RUNNING OUT OF GAS? "At Bristol? Yeah, it's one of those things. They had a miscalculation. The number that they entered in the computer on the fuel mileage was just a little bit different than what the car was actually getting. They went by what the computer told them but the number they punched in was wrong and unfortunately they ran out of gas. I think he's the first person to ever run out of gas at Bristol."
HOW IS THE NEW CHEVROLET? "We're doing okay. We're a lot better than we were last year, that's for sure. We've got a better-balanced race car. I'm not crying for politics or nothing, but the Fords and Dodges are doing pretty good also. The racing as been great - down at Darlington and then Bristol last week - even Atlanta was a great race. There has been a lot more passing and the racing has been a lot more competitive. The biggest thing is that John Darby and all his guys have come up with common templates and it's just made everyone equal. You've got to pat them guys on the back because the racing is a lot better for sure."
WHY HAS MICHAEL WALTRIP BECOME BETTER AT A VARIETY OF TRACKS INSTEAD OF JUST BEING A RESTRICTOR PLATE GUY? "The 2003 Monte Carlo is just a better balanced race car than we had last year. Last year we qualified really well. But when you take the tape off the grills, we had no downforce. The Chevrolets were really hurting. This year, we don't have that problem. We have a better-balanced race car with a ton of downforce. It's just a matter of us learning the new car and getting it balanced right. We struggled a little bit at Atlanta. We had too much front downforce and we were loose all day long. We're working hard going to wind tunnels and making sure we bring the right car to the right race track. But giving Michael a car that's competitive every week compliments him."
HAS MICHAEL TALKED WITH YOU ABOUT HIS IDEA OF RAISING THE FRONT VALANCE TO 8 OR 10 INCHES TO IMPROVE THE RACING? "Yeah, we talked about it. That's a good place to go look at it in that direction, that's for sure. With the springs we're running in the front now, people don't understand. Our valance height for NASCAR is 3 1/2 inches. But when you get in race trim, that valance wears away to 6 inches. So, we're getting there now with the way our cars are traveling. As we enter the corner, the valance actually grinds away on the race track. So it's probably 4 1/2 inches and 6 on the right for sure. So, we're getting there. But it's not a bad place to look."
ON PIT CALL DECISIONS AND DRIVERS OVERRULING CREW CHIEFS "It's tough. So much happens (at Bristol), for example that the crew chief can't see. A lot of that depends on the driver. When it's under green, we talk 5 to10 laps before we pit and try to discuss some form of strategy. When I tell him that in 10 laps we'll be out of gas, he understands that. So it's kind of a fifty-fifty deal. The crew chief says this is the lap we need to pit, but if something happens you'd give him a window of fuel so he doesn't run out of gas and look like a fool. But it's tough. We stayed out at Vegas when we were running third and all the leaders pitted. We went right to the back after that. You can't predict what everyone behind you is going to do. It's just a tough call sometimes. It's luck more than anything else. It's not skill. It works out sometimes and sometimes it don't. It's a crap shoot."
ON THE CHEMISTRY BETWEEN HIMSELF AND MICHAEL AND NOT ARGUING ABOUT PIT CALLS, ETC. "The thing I've got going with Michael is that he's an awesome race car driver. He's been doing this a lot longer than I have. I've used his wisdom and knowledge to help me get better also. So if he sees something out there and he knows it's going to help us, I stick behind him. And he sticks behind me. We don't point fingers and cuss and fight at each other. If you do, it just destroys the team. So we try to work together and do this together."
AT WHAT POINT IN YOUR CAREER DID YOU BECOME COMFORTABLE WITH MAKING PIT CALLS? "I'm still not comfortable. Every time you make one, you just kind of shake a little bit. I don't think anyone is comfortable making the call. You just try to use your best judgment with everything surrounding you and hopefully it works out if you get two tires, four tires, or just gas. Racing is so competitive. You think you make the right decisions. It's definitely a tough job to sit up on top of that box. There's a lot of calculating going on during the race."
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT YOUR JOB? "The best part is when we do good on Sunday and come back to see all the smiling faces on Monday. The guys in the shop don't get much credit. After we won the Daytona 500, we came in here Monday afternoon and it was just a great feeling to see all these guys pumped up. They just don't get the credit they deserve."
WHEN YOU HIRE CREW PEOPLE, WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR? "I like to hire people that have been employed at the same place for a long time. The best thing I like to do is hire people from the Busch Series. When you're in the Busch Series, you have a smaller budget than Winston Cup. In Winston Cup, you have specialty people. In the Busch Series, you pretty much have to do everything from changing motors to packing ball joints to putting sides on a race car. You've got to be pretty knowledgeable about racing. Those people don't come with egos, they're just hard workers. I like hiring people that you can bring in and show them the way you want things done and that's the way it gets done."
WHERE DO YOU SEE THAT FINE LINE BETWEEN HAVING AN EGO AND BEING EGOTISTICAL ENOUGH TO HURT THE TEAM? "Well, you can deal with egos but they've got to perform. If you've got a guy with a big ego and he can change tires in 12 seconds, well then you can learn to deal with it. But if you've got a guy that's got a big ego and he's consistently 15 second pit stops, well then you've got to question. A guy with an ego can ruin your race team because he pokes his chest out and say. 'I'm better than you', and that's not the way it works. If you've got a good solid team, it's all about doing it together. There's no 'I' in team. You've heard that a thousand times. If you can get all the guys on the same page and in the same direction with no egos, you're better off. I just like people who actually shut up and get the job done than (ones who) poke their chests out around the shop."
HOW TOUGH IS IT TO GET THE RIGHT SET-UP FOR TEXAS? "Texas is difficult, but we've had six races now and the set-ups we used last year are nothing like what we're using today. With the common template body, it's a whole different race car than what we had last year. We hardly even take notes with us from last year. Every week we're learning and trying new stuff - pretty exotic stuff. There's some pretty crazy set-ups going on. You've pretty much got to start with something crazy and hope it works. If it don't, you just adjust. But the set-ups are way different than we've ever done in NASCAR Winston Cup racing."