NASCAR Media Conference
October 24, 2006
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference in advance of Sunday's Bass Pro Shops 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. That will be the seventh race in the 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, the last ten races of the season that determine the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion.
First, here is a quick reminder to media attending the race this weekend. There will be a NEXTEL Wake-Up call media opportunity in the infield media center Friday at 2:45. Chase participant Jimmie Johnson will be the guest.
Today our teleconference guest is Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet. Later we'll be joined by two-time Series champion Terry Labonte, who will compete in his final Series event next week at Texas Motor Speedway.
Kevin comes into this week 2nd in the Chase standings. He's only 36 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. He's already clinched the 2006 NASCAR Busch Series title, and he could make history as the first driver to win both that title and the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup title in the same season. Kevin, you won your first Series race in Atlanta five years ago. What are your thoughts about being so close to the Chase lead with only three races remaining?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I feel really good about where we are, considering the last few weeks that we have had. We've had an engine failure at Dover, we had transmission trouble at Charlotte, and I think we wrecked at least once last week. We wrecked at Kansas, we wrecked at Talladega, so we have not had the greatest complete events. We've always seemed to have decent finishes in the end, but it's been a lot of drama in between.
We feel good about the position that we're in. We ran really well at the first Atlanta race this year and crashed there in the beginning of the race, but the car ran well and we're racing -- I believe we're racing the car that we tested earlier in the year, so we're excited about going to Atlanta and looking forward to the weekend.
ED HINTON, TRIBUNE NEWSPAPERS: Kevin, you've probably heard Matt's quote that this Chase has been pretty sloppy so far, as he put it. He seemed almost embarrassed to inherit the lead in the Chase with an 11th place finish and all of his double digit finishes. Is it at all hollow for you, or do you feel like this is such a chaotic thing that it's going to be who has the least mess at the end of this thing?
KEVIN HARVICK: You know, it's really a Catch 22 situation. Everybody is pushing everything to the extreme, whether it's engines, bodies, drivers. No matter what it is, you're pushing everything as hard as you can so you're walking that ultra-thin line of being good with an advantage of more horsepower or more downforce or whatever the case may be, being more aggressive on the race track.
But when you push it too far, you wind up crashing the car or blowing an engine or whatever you're pushing it on, and everybody is pushing everything. It appears to be sloppy, but it just -- a lot of us have had good fortunes through the year, and now it seems like some of those bad fortunes have caught up to us but we're still -- on the performance side we're still okay and able to salvage good finishes out of it.
The 17, you know, I can't speak for him, but I know from our standpoint, we feel like on the performance side of things, we've been okay, we just haven't had everything go our way in the last five weeks.
ED HINTON, TRIBUNE NEWSPAPERS: Regarding Jeff's engine failure Sunday and then yours earlier, does that make you feel a little bit tentative about these last few races? I'm no mechanic, but I think the places like Atlanta maybe are even harder on the engines. Does that make you the least bit wary going into these last three races or last four, that you and your senior teammate have had a -- had engine failures?
KEVIN HARVICK: Not really. The biggest thing that -- we have a different engine package for tracks that are mile and less so we only have to run that engine package one more time. We're right on the edge of pushing things on that. Knock on wood, we've had good luck with our engines on the mile and a half race tracks and that package. So two totally different packages that we've been having problems with, and our mile and a half stuff has been okay it seems like.
VIV BERNSTEIN, NEW YORK TIMES: As to the why of it, are you guys pushing your equipment that much harder than during say, the quote-unquote, regular season? And are you really pushing too hard?
KEVIN HARVICK: I don't think you can ever -- you don't push too hard until you start -- you have to find the limit somewhere. I think obviously it's a fine line between pushing the limits and trying to find out where that limit is and knowing when to back off. But everybody seems to be in that frame of mind, and I think that's why it seems like there's -- I think that's why there's been so many problems myself.
JIM GINTONIO, ARIZONA REPUBLIC: What would it mean to you if you should win both the championships, Kevin?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think any time you set out to race, I mean, we set goals at the beginning of the year, and our goals at the beginning of the year were to race for both championships and put ourselves in contention to do that towards the end of the year. Obviously the Busch year has been something that we might not ever get the chance to do again, in one complete racing year.
But to be able to accomplish both of those goals, knowing where we were last year at RCR and everything that we've turned around and to be where we are today is something that I think we're all just head over heels about and really excited to be a part of it.
To have that opportunity to achieve those goals that you always try to set as high as you can is something that we're all really proud of.
JIM GINTONIO, ARIZONA REPUBLIC: And last year or the last couple of years you've been on the outside looking in at this Chase. What kind of a mindset do you have as a non-Chase driver? Is it frustration or anything like that?
KEVIN HARVICK: I don't think so. I don't think you really care about any of the Chase guys. You go out and you try to make your season better, maybe I thought about it wrong.
But as you get down to the last few races, you try to respect the Chase drivers that are in contention for the championship. But otherwise you race as hard as you have for the whole year, and if they're worried about crashing, they need to just worry about it themselves, you don't need to worry about that from a non-Chase guy's standpoint because it usually causes more problems than are necessary.
CRAIG WACK, MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL: There have been some reports that you may not run at the Busch race in Memphis this weekend. I was just checking to see if you had decided which way you're going to go with that.
KEVIN HARVICK: No change.
CRAIG WACK, MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL: You're still going to come and race?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah.
CRAIG WACK, MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL: Also, you won the Busch title so dominantly this year. Do you think that it will prompt NASCAR to make some moves to maybe push the Busch Series into a Chase kind of playoff format?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think the Busch Series is kind of in the middle of -- it's in a midlife crisis I think you could say. The sponsors and the drivers are all -- a lot of Cup drivers and a lot of sponsors want that to put in their cars so they get the most bang for their buck.
Yeah, I mean, from another standpoint, I think it would be good for the Series to be able to have the guys that are racing week in and week out that aren't in the Cup Series be able to have a story behind them, to have something that everybody can talk about on TV and the sponsors are interested in.
It's a little bit tough right now from a Busch team owner's standpoint to sell that to a sponsor and understand that completely. But from a driver's standpoint, it's great for me because I can race both schedules and race as much as I want to, and I've been fortunate to be successful at it.
I think it's what the people want to see in the grandstands, and the race tracks love it and everybody likes it, but I don't know it's the best thing for the Series in the long run.
GARY GRAVES, USA TODAY: Given all the things that took place Sunday in Martinsville with yourself and with other drivers, and I guess looking at Talladega, has that caused you to give any thought to maybe adding another short track race to the Chase to create a little bit more excitement?
KEVIN HARVICK: I would like to see more short tracks in it. But it seems a little heavily padded with mile and a half race tracks, and I don't have a problem with the mile and a half race tracks, but I think if you're going to determine a championship, you should have all different types of race tracks on the schedule to determine who the best team and driver are.
You know, it is what it is right now, but I think obviously the short track stuff is pretty intense and pretty exciting to shake things up.
GARY GRAVES, USA TODAY: Given where you finished or where you ended up in the points, are you still kind of surprised at that after some of the things that happened Sunday?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, it turned into a typical Martinsville. Ever since they've redone the race track at Martinsville the racing hasn't really been very good anyway. You can't pass, and it's kind of just run into everybody. So that makes it tough. But it seems like it's losing grip every time we go there.
Yeah, I mean, we had the opportunity to wreck several times and we did wreck once pretty good and were able to just have cosmetic damage and get it all pulled back out and come back and finish in the Top 10.
We were fortunate to not get it worse than we did and still have a decent finish out of it.
MIKE FORD, NEW YORK POST: Two questions: First one if you can answer it is everyone going into the Chase says that Talladega and Martinsville were sort of the 1 and 1A of the wildcards; you never knew what was going to happen. Now that you're past that, what is sort of your mindset and all the other Chase drivers' mindset? Is it sort of a breather now, now we can sort of get back to talent wins out and not so much luck?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think it's going to come down to luck myself. I think in racing and any other sport that you can think of, I think luck plays a major factor in what you do. I think all ten teams are really good and have performed well week in and week out, and everybody is pushing as hard as they can right now.
I think it's going to come down to who has the least amount of problems because all the teams -- if you look at the race results and the running order in a lot of the races, through the races, I think that most of the Top 10 teams are going to be in the Top 10 pretty much most of the time.
All ten of those teams are there for a reason and seem to be running good every week, it just seems like a lot of crazy little things are happening.
MIKE FORD, NEW YORK POST: And also, I'm sorry if you've answered this question already, but I was just looking at some of the numbers and you have just under a 25th average finish at Atlanta. Is there some reason you can put your finger on, why you've performed better at other tracks than this one?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think obviously we've won in Atlanta, so, I mean, it's there. Maybe we used our luck up in the beginning, I don't know. But it was good to us at the beginning of the year performance-wise and just got caught up in a wreck. So I think from a performance side, I think we should be fine, it's just a matter of making all the right moves and having a whole day come together.
CLAIRE LANG, XM SATELLITE NASCAR RADIO: Kevin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was talking about that he's kicking himself basically because he got into the racing of it, not the points race but just racing, and he says he has to learn not to do that when you see the finish line at Martinsville. Is that something that you think that you've learned that's benefitted you, to not be such a racer that you forget about the big picture?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think during the races, during that particular event, I think you get into the moment and you get into trying to win the race and trying to do the best you can and race as hard as you can every lap. If you don't race hard, you wind up getting beat by somebody who is racing hard, and usually when you wind up trying to be conservative you usually get yourself tore up.
I don't know, I think it's kind of a -- you could argue it both ways I think and probably come to a good conclusion. It all depends on circumstances and who you're racing around and what the circumstance is to be honest with you as to what decision you make as far as how hard you push.
CLAIRE LANG, XM SATELLITE NASCAR RADIO: If it's true that all the stories out about Dodge and Chevy changing new models for the NEXTEL Cup competition, that the technical bulletin went out and that Chevy would change to the Impala SS, although that would be the car of tomorrow, and they may change models in the Busch Series perhaps as soon as 2010, putting a smaller, sportier model like a Chevy Camaro into the play, how does that affect you and what are your thoughts about that?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, to be honest with you, I really don't know the ins and outs of all of it to know exactly what's going on. But obviously I've heard rumblings of the Busch stuff going to a different name, and I would say that the model change will probably be just -- next year will probably be just stickers on the car and that will be about it.
CLAIRE LANG, XM SATELLITE NASCAR RADIO: If you were racing finally a smaller, sportier model in the Busch Series, do you think that would give it its own identity? Would you find that interesting?
KEVIN HARVICK: It would give the manufacturers another Avenue to help support the series, and right now we have the Monte Carlo on Sunday, so the Monte Carlo on Saturday isn't as appealing to everybody as it would be as if you had another brand to support.
I think it would add a little bit of spice to the Busch Series to have another brand in there just from a manufacturer's standpoint to help support it.
TIM HADDOCK, LA DAILY NEWS: I was wondering a little bit forward to the Phoenix race. That was a race earlier this year that you won at, and if this Chase was going to come back to who has the best race last. Is that a race you're anticipating, and what are your thoughts about racing at Phoenix and the fact that you've won there already once this year.
KEVIN HARVICK: We've always run really well at Phoenix, and to have won the race there earlier in the year is something that we're obviously looking forward to. I have always -- I've run a lot of races at Phoenix, and the Trucks and the Busch cars and South-West Tour cars and all the different divisions. It's close to home and it's one of those places that I really enjoy going to and we've been fortunate to have success at. So that's good for us, I guess, in the end with being the next-to-the-last race.
JIM PEDLEY, KANSAS CITY STAR: Do you think there is anybody in the garages these days who's not come to like the Chase?
KEVIN HARVICK: I don't think so. I think from a sponsor's standpoint, I'm sure if you're -- if you would have won the points by 200 points in the traditional style you might question it a little bit, but I think even now you have to look at it not selfishly. And from a sponsors' standpoint and a media standpoint and a NASCAR standpoint, I think it's been a benefit all the way around.
Who would have been talking about the 26th race at Richmond if we wouldn't have had the Chase? To have eight guys left who are 100 points apart with four races to go, that's a huge story. It's done everything it's supposed to do, and I think this year is a testament to how it was intended to happen.
JIM PEDLEY, KANSAS CITY STAR: Not literally, but is it now kind of hard to remember what racing was like before there was a Chase?
KEVIN HARVICK: Not really. I've lived it on the Busch side this year, so I've kind of got to race it both ways. I know the mindset from how we race in the Chase to how we've run in the Busch Car. There's really no pressure left in the Busch Series to race for the last four races other than to go out and win a race, which is how we try to approach it all year, but now you don't have a second thought in your mind.
JAY HART, MORNING CALL: I guess Claire Lang sort of asked the same question so I don't think I have too much to add. I'm kind of wondering about the idea of points racing. Maybe that's a lot easier said than done. But looking at how the Chase has sort of played out here and you're sort of talking about how maybe luck is going to play a big factor into it, is it possible that you could sort of take maybe that factor out of it by points racing, take the luck factor out of it by points racing, and conceivably if you're points racing you'd probably be leading the Chase right now? Again, it might be easier said than done, so I'm wondering your take on that.
KEVIN HARVICK: Way too much thinking for me. That's way too complicated. I don't know how I could make myself do that other than you go to the race track and you try to go as hard as you can and you try to pick it up one notch to try to step up when you get in a situation like this to race for a championship. I don't think there's -- I just don't think -- if you would have ran around 15th you're still going to get beat by the guy who can win two or three races or win one race and run in the Top 5 week in and week out even if you ran 15th every week, and that kind of blew up. I don't think you're going to come out ahead if you wound up doing it that way.
JIM PELTZ, LA TIMES: Kevin, it was announced this morning that A.J. Allmendinger is going to immediately move from Champ Car to the NEXTEL Cup Series, to attempt to qualify this weekend. I'm just wondering what your general reaction is to the growing list of open wheel racers who are joining the sport. And also, I was just curious if he makes the field, when you come up behind him, someone who's brand new on the track and in the Series, does anything go through your head?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, he's done a good job in both of the truck races that he's run. At Talladega he did an extremely good job. Obviously I don't think he wants to get started off on the same foot that David Regan got started off on at Martinsville and running into everything on the race track and spinning out and causing half the cautions that the race had.
I don't think that's the right way to do it. It's going to be tough. I mean, they're starting a new team and they had Bill Elliott in the car at Charlotte and missed the race, and the learning curve is going to be pretty steep. I think the best thing he can do is just go out and try to gain all the experience he can and concentrate on just trying to make the races for the first little bit.
Q. BRAD HARRISON, THE TELEGRAPH: There's so much parity within Chase this year where it seems like no one is really able to get any set racing and pull ahead. Have you ever been in anything similar to this before that can really prepare you for something as tight as this thing is so far?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think -- not really on the racing side of it, nothing has ever been this close. I mean, obviously racing for the Busch championships and in 2003 running for the Cup championship and kind of losing ground at the end of the year, but never anything this close.
I'd say that the most intense thing that I've done like this in my life is probably back in high school when we wrestled week to week and you wrestled match to match just to try to keep going in tournaments. That would probably be the closest relation that I could come to in the current situation.
Q. Has there been anything that's really surprised you with this deal so far the last couple weeks?
KEVIN HARVICK: To be honest with you, not really. Just knowing the mindset of all ten guys going in and knowing how well everybody is running, everybody just seems to be pushing everything so hard that there's been some failures and just seems almost coincidental that all the guys, we've all had bad luck at one week or another. Whether it's a coincidence or not, I don't know.
JOHN STURBIN, FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAPH: This is, I guess, the most solid lineup of drivers at RCR in years and you've been through a lot of teammates there. What's your comfort level working with Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer?
KEVIN HARVICK: Obviously the comfort level is pretty good. Obviously Jeff has been there for I think two and a half -- going on two and a half years now. Clint has been there in the Busch program since '04, and I've been there since end of '99, 2000. I get along with both guys really well and we all communicate really well together. Clint is a good friend -- Jeff is a good friend, too. So everybody gets along, the teams get along, and that's something -- it's the first time I've had that since we've been at RCR.
I think it really helps to have all three cars running well and being able to compete week in and week out. I think all three cars aren't going to be good when they unload off the truck every week, and when you have one or two running well you can get stuff out of that car and usually it elevates the level of performance to the next car where it needs to be.
I think all three cars running good definitely helps everything go forward.
BILL GAMBLIN, SANTA ROSA PRESS GAZETTE: Kevin, I know a lot of hype has been given about Atlanta, but for you back in 2001, Atlanta had to be a very special track for you. Going back there in 2nd place in the points with a chance to win your first championship, what's been going through your mind about Atlanta this weekend?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think for most of the people that ask those questions, most of them probably don't even remember back in 2001. That's kind of the ironic thing. We have had some fairly good success in Atlanta, obviously winning our first race there.
Under the circumstances that we did, and performed as a team, we won't ever forget that moment just because of everything that went on. I think when you start thinking about it, it brings those same chills back to you that you got at that particular time of winning my first race and knowing that you can't do that again, and then obviously you go back to the circumstances.
For us I think it lights that fire back up because you want that feeling. I think this situation is very close to that situation, just in a whole lot different way. Those are the kind of situations as professionals that you dream about and you look for the opportunity to take those moments and try to capitalize on them. That's how we're trying to approach it. Good question.
BILL GAMBLIN, SANTA ROSA PRESS GAZETTE: If you don't mind me following up a little bit, I know in 2001 I remember you finished 2nd in the points that year. The performance of the GM Goodwrench car was outstanding the whole season. What has been the difference to turn the team around in that little lull that RCR went through?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, we went through a couple different periods. The end of 2001 really we started to taper off the last probably eight or ten races of the year and that carried over into 2002.
2003 we struggled for the first five or six weeks. That's when Todd came back on board and we actually made 400 or 500 points up on Kenseth and got back as high up as 2nd on points and kind of fell off the last couple weeks, and I think we finished 5th in the points.
2004 was much like 2002, and 2005 was as up and down as any year you could have.
This year I think that the strongest thing that we have are just -- we have all three cars running good. Everybody is communicating well and really I don't think you could point at one thing as making the turnaround for the company. I think our bodies are better, I think our engines are better, I think our crews are better. I have the same team that I've had for the last few years for the most part, but most of the other people are different on the other teams.
Having all of those three teams perform well have elevated the level of everybody.
DENISE MALOOF: Thanks for joining us today and spending some time answering questions. We appreciate it. Good luck this weekend.
KEVIN HARVICK: Thank you.
DENISE MALOOF: We are now joined by two-time Series champion Terry Labonte, who won his titles in 1984 and 1996. He is going to compete in his last Series race next week at Texas Motor Speedway. Terry is a native Texan from Corpus Christi, Texas, originally, and he's joining us today on the teleconference. Terry, I guess there's lots of emotion looking forward to next week.
TERRY LABONTE: I'm looking forward to it. I've always enjoyed racing at Texas out there. It's going to be a little bit different, I think, going out there knowing it's your last race.
You know, like I have said before, I've been doing this for a long time, been very fortunate over the years to be with some good teams and win some races and a couple of championships. I don't know, I just felt like it was the right place for me to run my last race was in Texas.
LARRY CRUMP, POINT PLEASANT REGISTER: First of all, I just want to say good luck this weekend. I've followed your career for quite a while. Do you have a specific moment during your career or off the track that in your mind maybe stands out a little more than the rest?
TERRY LABONTE: Oh, gosh, I don't know. I think probably one of the most exciting days, I guess, was the day -- actually my brother won the race in Atlanta and I won the championship back in '96, and that was a pretty cool afternoon down there. We both made our victory lap together down there, so that was pretty neat.
LARRY CRUMP, POINT PLEASANT REGISTER: You've earned a lot of nicknames over your career from Ice Man to Iron Man. If you could sum up your career, what would you like to be remembered as as your legacy?
TERRY LABONTE: I think I've been asked that question before, and I don't have a good answer for it. I really don't know. I still don't have a good answer. I'm not sure what to say.
JOHN STURBIN, FORTH WORTH STAR TELEGRAPH: Can you recall what your budget was back in '84 when you won that championship with Billy Hagen?
TERRY LABONTE: I think our sponsorship was probably in the $800,000 range for the year, and then I think we won about $800,000. I'm sure we spent every penny of it. That's probably about where our budget was.
JOHN STURBIN, FORTH WORTH STAR TELEGRAPH: Was it a big deal back then to try to bring in a sponsor like Budweiser I think was on your radar screen and that was one of the things you were chasing?
TERRY LABONTE: No, we had Budweiser before that in '83. That was $300,000. So then next year we had Piedmont for like $800,000. We had Budweiser for one year and then Piedmont for three years, and then I guess a couple years after I left the team.
JOHN STURBIN, FORTH WORTH STAR TELEGRAPH: That wouldn't get you very far today, would it?
TERRY LABONTE: No, it wouldn't. It's a little bit more expensive today to operate a race team.
JIM GINTONIO, ARIZONA REPUBLIC: Terry, from the perspective of a former two-time champion and knowing how hard it is and how talented these Cup guys are, to go on the assumption that the Busch Series is kind of a training ground --
TERRY LABONTE: It's a practice ground.
JIM GINTONIO, ARIZONA REPUBLIC: How fair is it in your mind to have the Cup guys come down and dominate the Busch Series week after week?
TERRY LABONTE: Well, you know, I was probably one of the guys that was guilty of running the Busch Series years ago, and I did. But the big difference was the majority of the guys that ran the Busch Series that were Cup guys had their own teams.
Today you have the Cup owners that have the Busch teams and just use it as a practice session for their Cup team, so it's kind of an extension of that team, and it's really driven the cost of the Busch Series up dramatically. It's pretty much for the most part on the way to eliminating all the Busch teams from the picture.
JIM GINTONIO, ARIZONA REPUBLIC: Are you saying that the guys who race Busch full-time, it's not fair to them?
TERRY LABONTE: Well, I'm not saying it's not fair to them, but it sure puts them at a disadvantage because instead of having a $3 or $4 or $5 million sponsorship, they'd have to have a $7 or $8 or $9 million sponsorship to even compete with these guys, and they still aren't going to be able to do it from the technical side, they're just going to spend that much money trying. They just don't have a three or four-car Cup team to draw off of. So that to me is the biggest thing that hurts the Busch guys.
CLAIRE LANG, XM SATELLITE NASCAR RADIO: Terry, various people talking about you in the garage, you're such a humble guy and a man of few words, not going to brag about yourself, but Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was asked this weekend about you, and he told two stories. One was that you had been invited by his father to go hunting, and that anybody his father invited he was just in awe of because he must be a cool guy. And then he talks about pulling out on the track when he was very young just getting started and sitting there in a car next to you. I mean, he went on for six minutes talking about this, how you pulled out and he sat next to you in the car ready to do out, and how he'll never forget he was next to Terry Labonte.
And the other one was that you had told him to start wearing a HANS device, and you had never spoken to him before; it's the only word you ever said to him. And he said, "If the man speaks to me and tells me to do something, I did it." Do you have any reaction to those stories? That maybe perhaps is part of your impact into the sport.
TERRY LABONTE: I can remember telling him he needed to wear a HANS device. That's a true story.
I did go hunting with Dale before. Yeah, you know, I don't know. I was pretty good friends with Dale and I've always been a fan of Dale, Jr.'s. I thought he's really handled himself well with the tremendous amount of pressure that he not only probably puts on himself but the fans and everybody else puts on him, too.
CLAIRE LANG, XM SATELLITE NASCAR RADIO: What do you think that you will take away from this sport? You've been there -- you're one of the few people that can remember all those great stories of the early years. What do you take with you about it?
TERRY LABONTE: You know, I just feel so fortunate that I've been able to compete in the sport as long as I have, been able to do so many things that I've had the opportunity to do and still feel very fortunate to have been able to make a living at something I love doing.
You know, I don't know, I never dreamed that I would be able to have a career as long as I've had. If you look at other sports, most people don't have near that opportunity to compete for as long as I've been able to.
KENNY BRUCE, NASCAR SCENE: When you started out racing around Texas and realized that you could be competitive there, was there any point where you thought, hey, you know, this is a good deal and everything, and maybe if I work hard enough at it and make the right connections that I could actually go to what was Winston Cup at the time?
TERRY LABONTE: No, I never really thought about it that much probably. I was racing in Houston, Texas, actually and had the opportunity to beat Billy Hagen up there. And it was through the promoter at the race track who introduced me to Billy, and Billy started sponsoring our car down there in south Texas, and we raced in Houston and San Antonio. And he called one day and gave me the opportunity to move to North Carolina and run his Cup car five times that year.
But I never really -- before that I never really knew if I'd ever have the opportunity or not. I think you just never know. It's probably much harder now or easier now to get in. I think it's probably harder now. It's kind of all about being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right people, I think. I think I was just lucky enough to do that.
KENNY BRUCE, NASCAR SCENE: Would you have taken a Cup ride -- I don't mean this to sound bad about anybody, but would you have taken a Cup ride with anybody that offered it? Were you looking to get in?
TERRY LABONTE: I had never even thought about it. Honestly I never really thought about it that much. You know, just racing the short tracks down there -- it was a lot different back then. You didn't go home on Sunday afternoon and watch racing on TV. They weren't on TV. You didn't ride down the road listening to it on the radio because they weren't on the radio, in Texas anyway.
You'd look in the newspaper on Monday and see who won the race, and that was about it. So that was really the only -- as much as you knew about that. The Daytona 500 was on closed-circuit TV and I remember going to a theater downtown with my dad and watching it.
As far as knowing really a whole lot about the sport, I never really did because you really couldn't follow it that much, especially living in Texas.
Yeah, looking back, I would have probably taken a ride with anybody, as most people would have. Back then I was looking at -- I think back then probably 60 percent of the guys owned their own cars. They were kind of owner/drivers.
JIM PEDLEY, KANSAS CITY STAR: Do you remember what your reaction was when you found out that NASCAR was going to have a playoff?
TERRY LABONTE: (Laughing) well, you know, I had mixed signals about it. I really didn't think nothing was wrong with the system they had. But I will say it has brought some excitement into -- leading up to the last ten races. I think it has added some excitement to it.
I'm not sure I still like -- I'm not sure I like the way it is, but I've got to give them credit for trying to come up with something to add some excitement to it.
Q. You say you don't like the way it is. Is there something that stands out in that area, anything you'd change?
TERRY LABONTE: Well, I'm not sure -- you know, it's just -- I'm not sure what I'd change. I think there needs to be more people that have the opportunity to be in the playoffs if that's what you want to call it. I don't know, if I had to change it, I don't know what I'd do. I'd like to see our ideas, I guess, of what they wanted to come up with. So I don't know.
I think the other thing that's kind of disappointing is the guy that's 11th or 12th, that they're denied the opportunity to finish in the Top 10 in points, and finishing in the Top 10 is a big deal to a team and to a sponsor, things like that. It kind of takes away a little bit from what those guys are trying to accomplish.
But it does, I think, add some excitement for the guys that are in the Top 10.
JEFF HOOD, ATLANTA JOURNAL: Terry, congratulations on a terrific career. I was actually at Darlington back on Labor Day of 1980 when you won your first Cup race. I just want to ask you, what do you remember about that day?
TERRY LABONTE: Well, that was -- I think the coolest thing I remember that day is all the people riding on my car to victory lane after the race. The people used to jump on your car and you'd ride to victory lane. When we got back the pictures like the next week that they were taking, there were people riding on the car and we didn't even know them. Our pit crew guys were on it but so were these others and we didn't even know them.
It was just kind of one of those deals that I think I was running 3rd on the last lap. Yeah, it was the last lap. We all went down to turn 1 and David Pearson and Benny Parsons and somebody else hit the wall, and there was oil on the track. And I didn't hit the wall and so I beat Pearson back to the line before the white flag is what it was, or the white and the checkered.
I passed him coming off 4 to the caution, we raced back to the caution. I beat him to the caution. We got the white, and I don't even think he saw me coming.
JEFF HOOD, ATLANTA JOURNAL: One other question: You've been racing on a part-time basis here for the last couple years. As your brother Bobby gets closer to retiring from the sport, would you advise him to do the same thing?
TERRY LABONTE: No. I wouldn't advise a limited schedule to anybody after I did it. It's a little bit tougher than I thought it was going to be. I think it wouldn't be so bad if your team ran every week and you just drove it occasionally, that would probably be okay.
But running a limited schedule when you have a team that doesn't have any points, you know, you're one of the last cars on the track, last cars through inspection. Sometimes you don't have the full practice sessions. You don't learn things from week to week. You're always trying to play catch-up, seems like you're behind a little bit. It's a little bit tougher than I thought.
Our sports changes so much right now as far as the setups go and shocks go and the technology side of it. You're chasing a moving target. Back five years ago, we ran the same springs at some of the race tracks three or four years in a row before you'd ever change, you'd just be fine-tuning your car, where today it's just -- it's a lot different. Like I said, it's been a little bit harder than I thought.
BILL GAMBLIN, SANTA ROSA PRESS GAZETTE: Pleasure to speak to you today. I wanted to ask you, I remember when you made the ride at Riverside, of course back then the Piedmont car that you drove was more of a Mach-style car as I like to call it compared to today's aerodynamic cars. With the changes that have occurred from Championship 1 to the aerodynamics that were needed for Championship 2 and beyond, how would you describe the change from night to day?
TERRY LABONTE: You know, there were probably not as much changes from '84 to '96 as there are from '96 to '06. The aerodynamics have gotten much more important today in a big way than it did from '84 to '96. You know what I'm saying?
BILL GAMBLIN, SANTA ROSA PRESS GAZETTE: Sure.
TERRY LABONTE: It's changed a lot since the past four or five years, I think. Yeah, those cars were a lot different. They weighed more. Heck, I think we took our speedway car to the wind tunnel, it was in like '85. I don't even think we took it in '84. The guys knew how to build the cars and they knew how to make it look and everything like that, but as far as building it and going to the wind tunnel and testing it and working on it, we never did something like that.
Q. If you don't mind me asking one more question, I know you recall a memorable race. Who was one of the more memorable drivers that you looked forward to competing with on a week in, week out basis?
TERRY LABONTE: You know, there were so many guys that I looked up to that I raced against, David Pearson I think was one that -- I was always impressed with him because when he drove for the Wood Brothers they didn't run a full schedule, they ran a limited schedule. You knew when you saw their truck pull in that, man, he was going to be one of the guys to beat. I thought that was really cool that he didn't run all the races, but every one he ran, he was a real contender for the win.
KEITH CORSON, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: It's a real privilege. I just was wondering if you've thought at all about that day, that Sunday at TMS, and Eddie Gossage has a lot of things planned and what sort of things you'll be feeling leading up to that.
TERRY LABONTE: Well, I don't know. I kind of I guess have a little bit to think about because I'm sure it'll be a little bit different when I get there and take it all in.
But I still feel the same way about my decision. I think my wife asks me that about every other week.
But I still feel good about it, and I'm still looking forward to going to Texas and running that race. Hopefully we're going to have a good run. That's my biggest concern, I think, is hoping we run good.
But as far as how I'll feel after the race is over, I don't really think I'll feel any differently. I might be wrong.
KEITH CORSON, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: One other thing. You certainly have driven for some great car owners over the years, if you could go back and maybe a thought on those guys and some other people in the sport that you've really enjoyed working with over the years.
TERRY LABONTE: You know, starting out, Billy Hagen gave me an opportunity, chance of a lifetime actually to run his cars. I drove for Billy for several years, left, went and drove for Junior, then for Richard Jackson for a year, then I came back to Billy for a few years and then left and went and drove for Rick Hendrick. I haven't really driven for many people in my career.
You know, they were all -- of course Billy was pretty successful -- real successful in the old business, liked to race on his own. His real love I think was sports cars all the time. He had sports cars and we'd go over in those sometimes.
KENNY BRUCE, NASCAR SCENE: I've got to ask you this: Is there any chance at all that you could be in a Cup car next year?
TERRY LABONTE: Not that I know of. I'm not planning on it.
KENNY BRUCE, NASCAR SCENE: There's no one race appearance or anything like that?
TERRY LABONTE: I had someone come knock on my door in Charlotte wanting to know if I wanted to go to Atlanta, and I said, "Nope." The guy says, "So I don't need to talk money?" I said, "Nope."
I just don't really have no desire to -- maybe after I sit out for a while I might change my mind or start missing it or something, but as of right now, I sure am looking forward to life after the Texas race.
Q. Physically you still feel like you could do it every week if you wanted to?
TERRY LABONTE: Oh, I could, yeah. There's no doubt about it. I think if you're going to do it, you need to either get in or out. This limited deal was -- I really like it a lot, but it was a little harder than I thought it was going to be. I think we'd be a lot better if we ran every weekend just because I can't really tell the guys on my team how to fix my car. I can tell them what it's doing, but with these setups that we run today, I don't have enough experience with -- I can't come in and say do this and do that, where I used to do that. It's just difficult that way.
JOHN STURBIN, FORTH WORTH STAR TELEGRAPH: Was it more satisfying to beat Harry Gant in '84 or Jeff Gordon your teammate in '96?
TERRY LABONTE: It didn't make no difference. We won the championship, and that's what was most satisfying.
JOHN STURBIN, FORTH WORTH STAR TELEGRAPH: Jeff said he doesn't recall you guys racing a whole lot against each other but the teams were very competitive that year.
TERRY LABONTE: Oh, they were, and that was one of the things that Rick was really concerned about. He was afraid that it was going to really hurt the teamwork and things at our facility. It probably did because I don't think Ray Evernham and Gary DeHart talked to each other very much.
Rick was more concerned about it than anybody, I think. I think for Jeff and I, it wasn't really no big deal.
DENISE MALOOF: We want to thank you for joining us this week. We appreciate it very much, and best of luck next week.
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