NASCAR WCUP: Bobby Labonte Pre Race Notes, Daytona 500
Posted By Terry Callahan
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
(ON HIS TEAM) "We had a great off-season, of course. Everybody went to work really hard after we got back from New York. We've done a little bit of testing - no different than we did last year. We tested down here and that was about all. All of our cars are basically prepared in the shop. All of our guys are still in place from last year and everybody is anxious to get going to start another season off, hopefully like we did last year. "We're looking forward to it. Jimmy (Makar), Joe (Gibbs) and everybody in the shop is geared up and ready to go. There's not a lot that's changed, but we're getting ready to go again.
"We're going to start over again with Sunday and we've got to keep our focus and try to do the same thing that we did last year."
(YOU'VE BEEN QUIET THIS WEEK - HAVE YOU BEEN PACING YOURSELF?) "I don't think 'pacing myself' is quite it, but running at the back - if that's what you think is pacing - I don't think that is what we wanted to do. Somebody asked me the other day, the said, 'Have you been real busy down here?' I said, 'Well, it's been up and down. I've been buys at times and not at other times.' I said, 'You know, I haven't real done a whole lot to get too busy, though. Nobody has asked me to do anything else because it's not like I've won a whole lot.
"We started off the week with the Bud Shootout on Sunday, and we ran pretty good, but we just got in the wrong place at the wrong time. The 'Twin 125s' just wasn't quite our day. We just didn't have quite the right set-up to race as good as we would have liked to. I know and would like to think that we all know that it wasn't worth tearing a race car up to try to get up there and fight for 14th or something. But it's like, 'What the heck? If it's not right, let's make it right for Sunday.'
"We really haven't been pacing ourselves, but we haven't been totally distraught either. We've been a little bit challenged with the new aero package down here at Daytona. When we came down here and did the NASCAR test, it loosened our car up quite a bit and we still haven't quite figured out how to tighten it back up."
(HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE A GOOD RACE HERE?) "To go back in time, two years ago DJ (Dale Jarrett) was turned over upside down and that wasn't good, and he won the championship. Last year we finished sixth, which didn't win, but it was a win for us because we were the first GM car, and we ended up winning the championship, so I guess it could go either way. "I was here in a Busch car in '91. The first three cars out of the race were the guys that finished first, second and third at the end of the year. I guess you can have a great day here, but you can't let it overshadow the next weekend because you've got 38 weekends you've got to race. But at the same time, sometimes if you do bad it kind of gets you mad enough where you're like, 'Man, we screwed up. We should have had a better race. We aren't going to let that happen again.'
"But, no, you don't have to have the best race here, but you sure would like to have the best race here."
(ON THE HERITAGE OF DAYTONA) "I think the first time I came down here was probably 1982, working on a car. A little story my dad has told me is he came down here in '79. He was camped out in the infield, just watching the race as a fan. It was pretty bad when somebody stole your firewood and the fire was lit, and they stole your fire and wood - so it was a pretty tough infield. That brings back one solid memory.
"It is a great feeling knowing all the guys that have raced here, been here - all that stuff. When you walk over to Daytona USA and see all the stuff over there. It's just a neat feeling with all the tradition that goes here. We got to some other tracks that have the same type of tradition, in different ways, but it's a good feeling. You'd love to be part of it. We'd love to have our name etched somewhere in there where guys 20 years down the road can say, 'Hey, I remember coming here as a race fan watching this race and Bobby Labonte did this and Tony Stewart did this and Jeff Gordon did that.' No doubt that it's the same thing that I've done over the years with the Pearson and Petty races, and Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison."
(IS A RACE MORE FUN OR MORE SCARY WITH A LOT OF LEAD CHANGES?) "Well, I hope there are 45 lead changes because if there isn't, somebody is going to be mad. But it is more scary when there are 45 lead changes - trust me. The way I said it is that 'it is what it is.' Whether you like it or not, you're here. You've got to do it, so it is what it is. You get out there and do the best you can at it. I told Jimmy that I don't know if we should set our car up to try to lead a lot of laps because it really doesn't matter. Just lead the last one. You don't have to lead any laps. Just lead the last one. You don't have to have a strong car. You just have to be at the right place at the right time. With two to go, you need to be going forward, not going backwards. That's what we want to try to prime ourselves for if we can. We might not make it that far, but we might. Who knows? We've been in that situation before a few years ago here. We've been in a situation before where we kind of rode around the back at Talladega and got involved in an accident. Anything can happen. We've just got to try to get ourselves focused at the right place at the right time."
(DO YOU RESENT BEING POTENTIALLY PUT IN HARM'S WAY ON THE RACETRACK FOR THE SAKE OF A GOOD SHOW?) "That's a good question. It's tough. It's like (Ken) Schrader said the other day, when you get all of them together it really doesn't hit all that hard because they're all just bouncing off each other, so it's not that big a deal - in a way. But it still is. You go out there and you pick and choose. You're out there in practice and you're out there during the race, and my philosophy is you can't let off and you can't lose the draft hardly. If you see it calm down a little bit, you might could go race a little more. But if it's me and you see it four-wide and you're behind it, you're like, 'I don't know if they're going to make it or not, so I'm going to back off.' But it's tough. Some guys probably enjoy it more than others. I'll enjoy it to the extent where I feel comfortable. But the first time somebody either screws your car up where you almost get knocked out or something, then it's like, 'Let's hang out here a little bit and see what happens.'"
(WERE YOU AT ALL UNCOMFORTABLE IN THE IROC RACE?) "I think a penalty box would have been in place for that one, if that would have been a Sunday race. That might have been taking it to the extreme - the out of bounds rule that we've heard people talk about."
(IS TOMORROW SIMPLY A MATTER OF BEING IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME AT THE END?) "You've got to get your car handling right. This is a lot different than Talladega. You have to have handling here. You'd love to be able to hold it wide open, but you can't a lot of times. Handling here is key, so whatever make (of car) you have, you've got to be handling. But at the same time, I go back to the only race that we've had with this aero package, which was Talladega. I'm sure Dale Earnhardt did not want to be in 18th with three or four laps to go, and he probably thought, 'This is not going to be good,' but as it turned out it was right. So how was he to know that it was right? He didn't, I'm sure. But, it just turned out that he was in the right place at the right time. He was going forward with three laps to go and not being held up.
"I think any make could do that, I suppose. It looks like we're all pretty even. The Dodges have qualified really good. We've all gotten wind of the wind tunnel test and know what everybody has got, so it's probably not as secret as they would want to keep it. But some guys might be a little bit better. It might be the more experienced drivers. It might just be a lot of reasons other than the manufacturer, but it still could be the manufacturer if your car is not handling good. If there is a manufacturer that is not handling as good as some other guys, they probably aren't going to be as good at the end maybe. It just depends. It's kind of a toss-up. Ask me who is going to win. I ain't got a clue. It could be anybody. It could be anybody. It could be a lot of people. It could be like 14-wide at the start/finish line.
"It's typical Daytona, but it's another year. I think it gets blown out into, 'Is it going to be more than last year?' Every year it's, 'Is it going to be more than last year? Can it be more than last year?' In this case, it's typical - yes. But you don't have to have the fastest car in qualifying. The fastest cars in qualifying aren't going to be the ones that just sit out front and ride around all day. You could see that happen if everybody just stayed single file. But when somebody starts passing, then that guy could go to the back. I watched the second (125 on Thursday). Terry (Labonte) was going for the lead and was 21st when he came back by, and that happens a lot. Jeff Gordon was dead last at Talladega and was first in 12 laps, so that's going to happen. It's kind of like, 'Who know where you're going to be at?'"
Text Provided by Al Larsen