NASCAR Winston Cup Series NAPA 500: Winner Quotes
16 November 1997
NASCAR Winston Cup Series Winner Quotes NAPA 500 Atlanta Motor Speedway November 16, 1997 HAMPTON, GA - The following provided by Performance Marketing Group: BOBBY LABONTE (#18 Interstate Batteries Grand Prix) - Started 21st - "We made a pack. After the race was over (crew chief) Jimmy (Makar) said, 'Let's not wait this long again.' I think with the lack of practice and everything, everything was up in the air. We just weren't sure about what was going to happen because I hadn't run any more than two or three laps in a row all weekend long. I was like, 'What's going to happen in five laps? What's going to happen in 10 laps? What's going to happen in 40 laps?' We were confident we were going to run good, but we just weren't real sure. "Our goal was to have a victory before the year was over. We waited until the end, which is not what we wanted to do, but how it turned out. Fortunately we had a good race car and it performed well all day. I was hoping the championship would be settled behind me. Last year with Terry out there (battling for the championship) it was a little different. I looked at the scoreboard a few times and saw where they were and that it was really close, but I didn't know how close it was going to be. "In the first 25 laps I knew the car was going to be fast. The thing was really good, and I wanted to make sure the tire wear was good, and it was. I knew we were going to have a good race car the rest of the day. "The only time we had a (tire) problem was the set before the last set. Something wasn't right. They said the right-rear was worse than it had been. We didn't go as many laps as we wanted to on that set, but on the others we were able to go the maximum amount. The 88 car probably had the same type of tire wear we did. We didn't have a problem other than that set before the last one. "I think a lot of what helped us was we did the Goodyear tire test down here. We were here a couple of days and we had to run 500 miles. We laid down a lot of rubber. Even though we tried a lot of different stuff, we never changed the race car at all. We never changed anything on the race car the whole time we were here because we didn't know how fast they were going to go. We were able to run laps in the 29.50s, and we were pretty comfortable in the high .70s and I thought that was as fast as I wanted to go. I think with the lack of practice we got to know the tires better just because we had two days on them a month and a half ago. "I ran as hard as I can from the get go really. I tried to be careful. The first pit stop, I think we lost a couple of spots. My car didn't work that good for four or five laps after they went back to green, but once it got going it got better as it went. I was hoping that was the way it would work, and it did. Our timing was right after we got to that point after a few laps. "One time I was leading the race and running hard to get a car a lap down. That was the hardest I raced and I lost my concentration there for a couple of laps. I found myself racing instead of racing the race track. This is no different than anywhere else, you have to race the race track everywhere else, too, this place here especially. You have to really be on your toes. You have to race the race track and make sure your race car is comfortable going around the race track. Yes, you definitely race the race track. "I caught him (Martin), and then he got caught in traffic and I got caught in traffic. Then we were both caught in traffic at the same time. I thought, 'This is going to be pretty,' because there was traffic for a lot of laps. I saw some smoke come out of his car going down the back straightaway, and I wasn't sure what it was. It looked like he might have dropped a valve spring. He came off four and he was waving his arms. As even as we were I knew it was going to be tough to get by him. All I know is I had to go. I had to make a move when I did. There was a car on my right-rear and I had to get by him. I was looking forward and not worrying about anything else."