NASCAR Media Conference
April 10, 2007
THE MODERATOR: We have a great guest today, Corpus Christie native, Bobby Labonte, the 2000 NEXTEL Cup Series Champion. He's driver of the No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge for legendary Petty Enterprises. Bobby is currently 22nd in the series standings coming into this week's event.
Bobby, a little bit of luck, you could very easily have been higher in the standings coming into your home state race this week. Overall, what's the outlook for the rest of the season, you know, given you've had some bad luck, I'm sure you're looking for your luck to turn around.
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, we've been kind of consistent in the middle throughout the season. Martinsville was definitely a kick up in the program. We were 14th in points prior to going into Martinsville. You know, we haven't been quite as competitive as we wanted to be, and yet at the same time, it's like we're still -- we're touching it but we haven't been able to get quite there yet.
I thought Las Vegas was probably our better race that we had even though we had to start at the back, going to a backup car. We were still coming up pretty good throughout the race.
So I feel confident that we are going to gain as we go, kind of like, you know, the first part of the year we're not quite as strong but hopefully we'll hit our stride here shortly.
And we've had a little bit of misfortune like at Fontana. I just screwed up totally and hit the wall just trying too hard. Got ourselves in some trouble there. Had a worse finish than we should have had. We had a brake problem at Martinsville that was just a miscommunication and the parts weren't quite tightened right, you know, could happen to anybody. It could happen again, but we make those mistakes and hopefully we won't make them again.
So everything is good there. It's just we can't go back. But I feel like, we were just talking today about our Car of Tomorrow testing and we have a few of those coming up and we're going to try to do a little bit more. We're a little bit behind on that. I've only sat in the car, you know, for the Richmond test, Martinsville race, and one other time, so I really don't have a lot of time in it.
So I feel like that's our weak point right now, so we've really got to beef it up as much as possible. But at the same token, obviously looking forward this weekend going to Texas, it's been a good track for us. We have a good setup there and taking the last car we had from last spring and finished 10th with it. So hopefully continue to run good on the mile-and-a-half tracks.
Q. You've been part of what's been anticipated to be the resurgence of Petty Enterprises with an upgrade of driving and support people. How do you feel that's going and at what stage of bringing the organization back to competitiveness are you?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, I think it's -- I know I'm not the answer, but I hope I'm a piece of the puzzle. But I think that, you know, we all have to -- "we," everybody at Petty Enterprises have to be committed. Not just one thing is going to bring you out of the hole or bring you back to life; it takes several things and some time.
But I do feel like the ship is being steered in the right direction. We just need to get going a little faster. That's always been -- I've always wanted to go a little faster or get things done quicker I guess more so than wait on it. But, you know, I feel like we're on the right track. A lot of talk's going on about doing the right things and the move and stuff like that. But you know, like I said, it doesn't happen fast enough for me but I usually get in trouble that way sometimes.
Definitely I hope I'm a piece of the puzzle and we have to make sure we do everything else right around it to make it all happen. I can't do it all by myself and nobody can and we just have to make sure we add all of the ingredients to be a part of it and hopefully we can get there.
Q. You talked about the Car of Tomorrow, some people speculated that the Car of Tomorrow might be an evening factor for some teams because it was new to everybody. Do you think that's going to be the case in the long run or is it too early to tell?
BOBBY LABONTE: No, I'm sure -- I'm sure that -- I feel pretty sure that the way it works is that the deeper the pockets, the better it goes. It's just going to be easier, a four-car team, even though the limitations on what you can do is more than what the car we're going to race like this weekend at Texas is, still the racehorses and the amount of time that you can spend on it is probably going to outdo the ones that don't have the time or money to spend on it.
Q. Kasey Kahne was talking at Martinsville about how much he was looking forward to getting back to the regular Dodge car at Texas instead of the Car of Tomorrow. As another Dodge driver, I was just wondering how you were looking at coming to Texas and whether you were looking forward to getting back into the regular Dodge, as well.
BOBBY LABONTE: Oh, most definitely. We just haven't been able to hit upon the right combination to go fast in the Car of Tomorrow yet. Really proud of everybody at Petty Enterprises and Dodge for building us a great piece. We just have a lot work to do on it. I know we can get it done. We just have to do it.
So obviously looking forward to this weekend more so than I was looking forward to, say, Martinsville.
Q. And I guess a follow-up question, even though you grew up in Virginia, this is still your home state; any fond memories, any special feelings about coming back to Texas?
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, I mean, Texas is a great facility. What Bruton (ph) and Eddie and all of them guys have done for Texas is great and have two races a year and fill the place up every time. You know, still got some friends and host families, all the family's basically moved to North Carolina now. But it's a great place to go, and what a great event, from the first race there to be a part of that one and always looking forward to it.
Always seems like I get a lot of cheers there, so that's always good, so hopefully we'll capitalize on it this weekend.
Q. Greg Biffle and other drivers at the Richmond test were talking about the foam in what would be the driver's side door and the heat and everything else, did you experience any of that at Martinsville, and what would you suggest be done with the foam down by the exhaust pipes?
BOBBY LABONTE: Unfortunately I didn't get to ride long enough in Martinsville to know. But I will say that even at the Richmond test, I sat in the car most of the afternoon the second day and I made a 30-lap run and I had to come in because my feet were on fire. I mean, my feet were just literally burning up.
So I don't know what the issue is there. We've just got to figure out if it's our car or everybody's car or whatever. I saw Kevin Harvick's car caught on fire or smolders or whatever you want to call it at Martinsville, so obviously they have got things to fix and things to do there to make sure that doesn't happen, and I think they have already addressed that.
You know, one of the biggest things that I noticed even at the Richmond test and at Martinsville both, and it had nothing to do with the Car of Tomorrow -- or maybe it does, is the unleaded fuel, I guess it's emitting the black smoke that you see every now and then when you let off the gas. Some guys do it more than others, and my guys said that mine does it more, but I go through that smoke and it just takes your breath.
I don't think it's the Car of Tomorrow. I think it's because we run them on the short tracks, and you'll see more of the short tracks than you would this weekend at Texas. That kind of got my attention more so than the foam did at Martinsville. I don't know if that's something that needs to be addressed or will be addressed or anybody else cares about it besides me.
Q. A little bit different from the Car of Tomorrow but for the longest time, you and your brother, Terry, raced together and everything. How strange has it been the last year or so, not having Terry there on a weekly basis?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, I've always said that it's really not much different for me in a lots of ways because I do get to see them during the week, or I talk to them every week during the week where there's guys that see them at the races for X amount of years that would only see them at the races for X amount years. So when he had to show up, it's obviously a bigger deal, because where is Terry at. In my case, I'm not sure I'll see him this week but I'll see him next week. I didn't see him last week because he was gone but I talked to him three times.
Obviously, yeah, I miss that person to go hang out with to see if he and Kim could fix me dinner if my wife couldn't go. But I get to talk to him a lot because he calls me all the time and I call him all the time, so I get a part of it that not a lot of guys might get.
Q. You touched on this already, but one thing with running at Texas, would you tell me what it would personally mean to you to record a win there just like your brother did at Texas being kind of your home track even though a lot of your family has already moved?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, it would be huge. I don't know that I could compare it. You know, the Brickyard -- I won at the Brickyard in Arlington and I guess when you look at it, like if I can win this race this weekend, it would have to rank more than any of them because just because of the situation; I haven't won in so long and stuff like that.
On a personal note, obviously to win at Texas would be a dream come true, and I know that Terry when he won there, that was huge. It's huge for him. I think any race nowadays is huge unless your guys that can go in five races, six races a year.
The next race you win is going to be big whether it's Texas or Pocono or Daytona or whatever. Texas, it does mean a lot because it's our home state, even though we're eight hours driving away from Corpus Christie to Dallas. We have got a lot of family and friends there. I think if we can do it, that would be a great place to do it at.
Q. Talk about your situation with the Car of Tomorrow. Does it put any more pressure or does it mean that you as a team with Petty Enterprises have to focus more to take advantage of every opportunity with the current car when you do go back to those races to sort of maybe try to off-set how much work you guys are trying to do and get caught up on the Car of Tomorrow?
BOBBY LABONTE: I don't know that it puts any more pressure on me. Hopefully it will be just more of a relief in a way because you kind of know what you're working with and you've been used to it for a little bit longer. Until we get used to the Car of Tomorrow, it's still different.
I believe that, you know, you have -- I guess we've got 14 races left in the Car of Tomorrow and there's going to be a lot of things that's going to change between now and the 14th or 16th race, say, for instance, because I think everybody is still trying to figure it out. It's been two good races. The finishes have been real close obviously. But, hey, that could have happened in the car of yesterday, too, so that's not really a telltale sign of it. We have to wait until we get to bigger tracks and see if anybody figures it out better than other guys.
Definitely the car of yesterday now is still the car that we have to race and hopefully we can do the best we can in it.
Q. I would like to know how your dirt track team is doing and what your plans are for them down the road.
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, I think they are doing okay. They won a few weeks ago in Alabama, and took last weekend off. They are going to race a couple of times this weekend. I think Earl's 7th in points maybe for the Lucas Oil Series, and they are going to hit their stretch here shortly and be gone a lot racing.
We have almost four cars built and Jason and Matt are doing a great job there. Hopefully we can continue growing the dirt team. It going to be hard to repeat as champion this year because of a lot of changes and it's always hard to repeat.
I think our next thing is to -- we're trying to get just in, my nephew, he has got a late model and we're going to try to get him to move his car over here to my shop so that he can be around it all the time, and trying to get somebody for him to run some races this year. He and Terry, they have got a truck and a trailer, they have a car that just needs some spending money to go race and trying to get that done. So, hopefully we can.
So we are looking for sponsorship dollars for that second car. If we can do it, and you know, hopefully, next year or even towards the end of the year, we'll look at more -- if there's something in the asphalt world for Earl that he has not done in a while that maybe we can kind of look at and see what -- have to see where we're at in points and see where we're at in what we're doing and all that stuff. That would be the next goal is maybe for him to do some asphalt racing of some type.
Q. Do you plan on racing in some dirt races yourself?
BOBBY LABONTE: You know, I don't plan on it right now. I don't see it happening, but you never know. If Tony does the El Doro (ph) thing again, we might do that, but after that I don't see it happening.
Q. Big year for you and all of the Cup drivers, you've got Car of Tomorrow, you've got the Dodge, you've got international flair with Juan Pablo Montoya, did you ever imagine the sport would grow to as big as it is now?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, I guess -- yes and no. I guess I've said "no" so many times that it shouldn't surprise me any more because, you know, five years ago, I wouldn't have thought it was -- it would be worth that then, or where it was then. And I've said no a few times when things have happened that were big news times.
So this really shouldn't be a no. It should be like, yeah, I should have expected it now after so many years. But it's obviously a big year for NASCAR and a big year for a lot of things going on. I mean, I think that -- I think that the big thing that you have to worry about or that you have to, you know, obviously watch for is the expectations. And then, you know, each year you always want to do better, as a sanctioning body, as a racetrack, as a race car driver, as a team, the whole deal. You always try to have more publicity and more -- get more fans. And, you know, hopefully this year we can bring that in and hopefully it will carry us for a while until the next thing happens.
But like I said, five years ago I wouldn't have thought it would be where it was at then so this year shouldn't surprise me. It's obviously great to see Juan racing NASCAR. He's brought a lot of great thing spot tort and definitely Toyota also.
Q. You made a name for yourself in racing, still a bit of a shock though for you that you know you're part of a team and a name like Petty to be part of that team? Do you still pinch yourself every once in awhile?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, I think if we were winning races every weekend it would be one thing. But when you try to get to win races, you're focused on trying to figure out, okay, what's the small ingredients left. We've all got all the big stuff but what's the little things left to get there.
I'm very blessed and very fortunate to have the ride in Richard's car and Cheerios as our backer. You know, just feel real fortunate to be able to do that. But we just want to succeed at it, too. We don't want to just be another piece of a jigsaw puzzle that there's still more pieces left to go. We want to make sure that we're part of it to make sure we can almost finish the puzzle or make it where you can see light or light there towards the end.
It's exciting, and I know that we've got our work cut out for us just like everybody does. Hopefully we're smart enough to do the right things.
Q. You mentioned earlier about the possible move of Petty Enterprises probably closer to the Charlotte area. For the race fans out there, what does the location of the race shop have anything to do with success on the track?
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, it's just -- man, the sport's changed so much, kind of like two questions ago, with things happening, and Charlotte being the hub for racing, you just kind of want to go located there. We have great employees at Petty Enterprises. But to add to the mix, and there's I don't know how many, but there's probably in the 20s, 20-some-odd that drive from Charlotte up here every day. But yet there's still the greater amount that live closer to here. It an opportunity for everybody that works there today to grow and to be better as a race team.
It's like Richard said, 25, 30 years ago, it was Junior Johnson, Buddy Shuman (ph), Spartanburg, you had the Pettys here, Wood brothers up in Stewart. That's what there was. But now there's so many good teams and each -- I mean, you've got to have -- you want to have all, everybody, the best of everything. And in order to do that, it's a little harder when you're out of the loop.
So I kind of look at it being that if we want to be in the loop, you need to be in the loop. You know, location is everything in business, and this is a business. I mean, so we want to be at the right location and if you're not, you know, then business is usually not as good.
So hopefully we can go with that as far as making the right moves and making the smart decisions to do that. Like I say, we've got great people and we wouldn't want that to change, but we've also got to add to the mix of it to grow and that's what part of it is about, we have to grow and update the facility, grow to three cars, grow to four cars one day, and you can't do that where you're at.
I kind of look at Home Depot. I've seen a Home Depot move two miles away. Well, put a new Home Depot two miles away, why would you want to do that? Well, got more traffic over there two miles away, check get more business, you know. Kind of the same philosophy. We need to move to hopefully get more business.
THE MODERATOR: Just want to thank you for joining us today. I'm sure I speak for a lot of people. I think it's a great thing, you know, these days to see a gentleman like yourself driving a legendary car like the 43 for great people like the Pettys. Good luck this weekend and the rest of the season.
BOBBY LABONTE: Thank you very much. Glad to do it.
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