NASCAR Media Conference
March 1, 2011
ASHLEY JONES: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR cam video teleconference in advance of Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Our guest today is Bobby Labonte. Bobby joins us today from the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.
He is seventh in points this season and has finished fourth in the season-opening Daytona 500. Bobby is also the 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. In 13 starts at Las Vegas, Bobby has accumulated five top-10 finishes and started on the pole twice.
Bobby, as we head to Las Vegas, why don't you tell us a little bit about your outlook for this weekend.
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, I think it looks good. I mean, obviously I'll start off with a positive note there. Really excited about our team this year. We've been to two tracks since I joined them last year. I've been to a superspeedway and a short track. Now we're going to an intermediate track.
I know last year Marcos, Martin and David ran really good on big tracks as the year went on. I hope that can continue on.
I think our team, myself, the way I feel about it, we got in good standing as far as the points as far as a good baseline for us. Hopefully we can continue that. We've had two good weeks of good racecars. We had a little bit of good luck one weekend and a little bit of bad luck this weekend. I think overall we'll be competitive once the race gets started.
Going to Las Vegas, I don't see any difference there. I love the racetrack, sat on the pole there twice, like you said. Really neat racetrack for drivers to go to. Since they changed the banking on it, I think it's become more exciting.
ASHLEY JONES: Thank you. We'll now open it up to the media for questions.
Q. Bobby, there's several drivers, yourself, a few others, that haven't been in top 10 or 12 in points for years. Is there anything you see in your team that makes you think you can sustain that for 26 races and make the Chase?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, what I see is just the hard work and the dedication that all the guys at JTG Motorsports have. We're only two races in. I do feel like we'll have some good races. We're going to have some races not so good. We have to eliminate and keep in our minds if we have a bad race not to let it affect us, the next weekend or weekend after that have a good race.
I feel like the desire, the integrity, the experience level, the resources that are there, those factors I think are positive. It's just a matter I think of a lot of our attitude, making sure we do everything right every weekend obviously to do the best we can and make it happen, not leave any stone unturned, but have a positive attitude about it. When something happens, we're going to work hard at making sure that we know we're capable. We just have to hit the high spots at the right time.
Q. Bobby, I know it's kind of a mistake to put a lot into just one race. What did finishing fourth for you out of the chute at Daytona do emotion-wise for you and the team? Did that make a big difference?
BOBBY LABONTE: Oh, yes, definitely. I think it's carrying a lot of momentum for us right now just for the fact we got a top five out of the Daytona 500. We were going to be okay until we were involved in the big accident at the backstretch of Phoenix.
But, yeah, Daytona was definitely a shot in the arm for all of us. As far as anybody coming out of the box, wanting a positive way to start the year off, that was one way to do it.
Didn't have too many events happen to us at Daytona, pretty clean as far as the race went. Came out with a top five. Tad, everybody, Frankie, the whole team was excited about that.
It's always easier when you get off to a good start. If you dig yourself in a hole, it's harder to get out of there, so feel good about that.
Q. What about last week at Phoenix? Several of the drivers talked about over-aggressive racing too early in the race, that sort of thing. What was your view on that? Did things get out of control a little bit there?
BOBBY LABONTE: You know, it's funny how the tires, I'm not putting the blame on tires, but it seemed like in the past you'd see some of this happen, but you wouldn't see the reaction, something like that.
The track was slippery. Had rain the night before. I didn't see a lot of difference than last time there or the time before. A cut tire here, pushed off in the dirt here kind of caught a few guys. I've seen wrecks off of turn four that blocked the racetrack and had to throw a red flag, too.
I didn't see from my point of view obviously that big a difference. It just happened I think that way.
Q. Bobby, Brad Daugherty was telling me yesterday, he said, Don't know if we'll get to Victory Lane, but I'm not going to say no. He said, As good as Bobby is at places like Atlanta, if the stars align right, we could pull one off. Do you dare to hope that this relatively small-budget team, one-car team, and you together could actually win a race or two this year?
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we're two races into it. Ask me after 25 races or so. But I do think that we have a lot of the same resources that are there that we need to run good and competitive with. Everybody's got to have the stars aligned right every weekend no matter what. You can have the fastest car and not win the race.
I do believe that we can go out there and be competitive week in and week out. In my mind, I know that we can be. We're going to miss things just like everybody else does. We have to go out there and be consistent right now. We'll gain confidence, gain integrity in our team, we'll gain experience with our group and we'll get a little bit better as we go. I think if we keep doing that, that's what's going to count towards the end of the year.
Q. Do you think maybe you guys together are kind of making a statement for the way NASCAR traditionally worked, one car and one very veteran, experienced driver? Brad said people asked him, Why didn't y'all get a younger guy? He said, I had a really good feeling about Bobby Labonte. What made you want to go to a one-car team?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, I mean, there's a lot of factors in there. We're associated with MWR. In effect, it's a one-car team, but in the competition part, it's a three-car team. You know, it didn't really bother me at all obviously because it's a great opportunity. The stuff is there to make things happen.
You've got a lot of major, big teams out there. Everybody has good weeks and bad weeks and runs good and might not run as good. I think we have just as good a shot as anybody right now with what we have.
Q. Bobby, it seems to me like there's a pretty good mix of young guys, some guys that are right in the prime of their life, some a little bit older drivers also right now. Does the same mindset or approach to driving at top levels work for an aspiring driver coming up like that as it does for a veteran driver that's been around like you?
BOBBY LABONTE: I don't know how to answer your question, to be honest with you. I think in today's world, technology and a lot of things in the racecars themselves are different than they were 20 years ago. So I think guys coming in today, I hope this answers your question, I think it's a different mindset.
When guys came in 20 years ago, you kind of had to work on your own stuff. Guys still do that. You had to make your own things because you weren't able to go buy stuff. Today things are more readily available. You can find out more information than ever before.
I think guys that come in today are no different in a lot of sports than they were 20 years ago. You have a lot more technology, a lot more advancement in learning than you did then. I think a younger guy coming in today is going to be years ahead of what it would be years ago.
Q. As far as you being a veteran driver, you see a rookie come up, when you get around that driver, are you like, I got to watch out here?
BOBBY LABONTE: Nope. No, it's not like that.
Q. Las Vegas has been a strong track for you in the past. As you look at the schedule up ahead, are there any tracks you look at that you aren't quite as fond of going to and are there some that you look forward going to more than others or are they all just another race to you?
BOBBY LABONTE: I look forward to all of them. There's some great racetracks coming up. Fontana is probably one that really is one that I would probably say is not going to be the track I see myself excelling at. But everywhere else we go to, I love Las Vegas, Bristol is a great place, Martinsville, Darlington. Whatever the schedule is after that, I don't know.
But, yeah, I mean, I think I'd say, if any of them, Fontana I'm going to work harder than I ever have before to go good there. It's one that's buffaloed me the past few times.
Q. You had a good run at Daytona. Then at Phoenix you end up in that big wreck. So many people over the years ask us media people, How the heck does a driver put that out of his mind going into the race the next weekend? I know every driver is different, but how about you? How does that mess get out of your mind?
BOBBY LABONTE: I mean, we were more fortunate than a lot of guys. We didn't get tore up too badly. We got to finish the race. We had a tore-up racecar. But we were still making laps. We finished two laps down. We were really close to not even doing that. A couple laps, would have almost been on the lead lap.
At the end of the day, everybody did a great job fixing our racecar. We were going to be competitive before that. We were passing cars before that and even after that. Things like that keep you motivated.
The racecar that I'm going to have at Las Vegas, I'm pretty sure I probably haven't even driven it yet. But I know in the back of my mind, with the confidence level we've had the past two weeks, the testing in the off-season, just in the communication and knowledge we have with everybody talking about if we have a problem, we're going to address it this way and that way.
Having team meetings that you can argue about the problems you got, but you know there's people working on it right now, fixing it while I'm talking to you, all that stuff gives you confidence. Knowing that we're going to get to go to a track that you really like, you unload, see what the first lap has and you go from there.
But the confidence level we have in the race team grows as you get stronger and grows as you get more acclimated to them. Hopefully that's what happens to the guys that usually run good, is they get all the confidence in the world in their crew chief and team, they're able to unload better every weekend and fine tune on it as the race goes on.
Q. Bobby, I wanted to ask you something a little different. As a driver, you're out there in public, a public figure. Certainly some individuals can use that platform for different things, maybe a religious platform, a charitable platform, different things like that. I know your team has been doing some stuff, promoting the situation with the girl in Charlotte. What are the challenges for a driver to create a platform, whether it is religious, charitable, something else, in the sense of wanting to get your feelings or being asked about your feelings but also a balance of being worried if you're upsetting other people? How do you kind of manage that?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, I think a lot of times you know what's close to your heart at the time, what you want to do, make an impact for other people, whatever it might be. Some people are more of a soft-spoken type person. You get them in a room, they'll fill your brain up with all kinds of information, but when they're in the media, they might not mention it as much. They are more of a shy or quiet type.
I think for me, I mean, I know you definitely want to be able to help people in a lot of different ways or a lot of ways that you can with your foundations, with what you can do at track, like what we were doing with Jordan this weekend for her bone marrow drive while we were at Las Vegas this Saturday in Charlotte.
Whether it's religious or isn't, I think you pick what's close to your heart. That's where it's got to come from anyway. You get help from sponsors. You get help from other people that help facilitate things to make it better.
In my mind, between my wife and I, it's our heart, the direction we talk about, however we want to portray or be like, be Christian-like. I guess you don't want to be in a tabloid like Charlie Sheen, put it that way. We try to do the right things in the right way. We'd rather have press that way than the other way.
Q. As you talk about somebody who is more quiet, I guess you're referring to yourself in a way. That said, how or when did you become comfortable in your career to be involved in more things or lend your name or be a part of more things, to create that platform that you wanted to represent?
BOBBY LABONTE: I think it's kind of always ongoing with me. I'm never a hundred percent on everything it seems like. I always have been reserved in a lot of ways, in everything that I do. I think as time goes on, I still find myself never being a hundred percent comfortable about saying some of those things or being like that. I'm always reserved. Like you said, I don't want to rock a boat, I don't want to upset people. That's probably my downfall, is I don't want to upset people in that way. I might stay more reserved than some other people would.
Q. When would you start kind of looking at points as far as where are you as far as Chase guys, what you would have to do? Are you looking at the points after every race or do you not pay much attention until a certain point in the season?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, I mean, I think right now you glance at it. Obviously you count your positions during the race. The other day it was like, Who are we racing? We got ourselves two laps down. Who are we racing? This guy, okay. I'm not going to bust my butt to do that. 21st in points looks better than a lot of guys that had problems. So I think you glance at it for a while.
If we can go to Vegas, have a top-10 finish, go to Bristol, have a weekend off, you need to set yourself up to make sure you're racing that group, trying not to get too far crazy or make a mistake.
Glancing right now, then studying it at one point to make sure we're in the top 12 would be great to see where you're going to be at.
Q. This is the first intermediate track of the year this year. A lot of intermediate tracks on the circuit. At what point do you have a good sense of where you are on the one-and-a-half-mile, two-mile tracks? Would you have a good sense this weekend or would it take until after California or Texas before you get a good feel?
BOBBY LABONTE: It could happen this weekend, but I'm not saying it will. Here three weeks in a row, we're speedway racing, short track, then this weekend at Vegas, then Bristol. There's three or four different racetracks that will play a role in what we're going to do the rest of the year.
The big tracks are going to be a big part of it. The setup is a little bit different than what I've been used to running. You know what, if it works and turns good, usually you'll be okay. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter if you like it, have a good feel for it.
We could find out the first race here on the big track this weekend that that is a trend I like to have. It might not. But I feel confident what we have, what we can try, what we can change, is something we can hopefully find throughout the race this weekend.
ASHLEY JONES: Thank you very much. Bobby, we thank you for your time and participation today. We also appreciate the media who called in and participated. Have a great day.
BOBBY LABONTE: Thank you.
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