NASCAR Media Conference
April 9, 2013
AMANDA ELLIS: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. We are going to open with Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 47 Bush's Beans Toyota for JTG Daugherty Racing. Labonte is a Corpus Christi, Texas, native and will be making his 700th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start later this month at Talladega Superspeedway. He would become the only 14th driver to do so.
Immediately following Bobby we will be joined by Ty Dillon. Bobby, big couple of weeks coming up for you. Talk about returning to your home state this weekend and then making your 700th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Talladega.
BOBBY LABONTE: Thank you. I want to thank everybody for having me on today. It's always exciting to go back to Texas Motor Speedway. I was there when they started to build that facility and Bruton Smith had a bunch of drivers come down there, so I have a picture of me blowing up some soil with some dynamite to kick off the construction of it. So to see that facility being built in the home state that I was born and raised in is really cool, and it's such a‑‑ it's a great facility to race on, I think, as far as the drivers go, and racing on it, there's multiple grooves and tires give up, and I think that leads to good racing and excitement for the fans.
Always looking forward to going back there, see a few people that I know that are still around that area that I've known for a long time, so it's always a lot of fun to go back there.
AMANDA ELLIS: On making your 700th Sprint Cup Series start later this month, talk about hitting that milestone.
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, that's obviously something ‑‑ I'll be honest with you, until this year earlier I didn't think about that number, before somebody else that keeps up with that stuff brings it to my attention. But still, I think back to racing my late model at Caraway and wanting to race in the Cup Series when I was 22 or 23 or 24 years old and I never would have thought then that I would be doing the things I'm doing today, and racing means so much to me. I love doing it, and to reach 700 is‑‑ it's a milestone that I obviously never would have thought about when I started. I would have never thought that I would have been able to do this at this point in time and to just‑‑ so it's just an incredible feat, I think, just because that's a lot of green flag starts.
Q. You mentioned the late models. Back in the day, name a muscle car or hotrod ride that you revered when you were an up‑and‑coming driver, and why.
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, you know, I thought the coolest car that I ever had was my first one my parents bought me, a 1969 Camaro Z28, $1,500. That was my 16‑year‑old birthday present.
As far as a hotrod car back in the day, I mean, that thing had‑‑ well, the air‑conditioning didn't work that good, but it would light up the tires pretty easy.
So anyway, obviously when you're 16 you wanted something really cool to drive, and that's what I got.
Q. You guys have raced this car at Vegas, which I guess is roughly similar anyway to Texas as far as speed and so forth goes. What do you anticipate with this car racing at Texas the first time?
BOBBY LABONTE: You know, the grip level at Texas is different than Vegas. The grip level gives up a lot more here, or at lot more at Texas than it does at Vegas. NASCAR has given us a half day on Thursday. The schedule is a little bit modified from a normal weekend like we were at Martinsville this past weekend. Hopefully we can‑‑ Vegas we never really got to use our test. We had a couple issues, never really got to practice much on that Thursday. But we've got practice and then qualifying and then the race is on Saturday night. The evening will help out as far as the track temperature being cooler. I anticipate a lot of the similar things. It's multiple grooves, but it's still going to be‑‑ one groove won't be the dominating factor so you'll see guys everywhere.
All the teams are still, and we're no different, learning more about this car all the time, so practice Thursday is going to mean a lot. Qualifying good is going to be key. Getting a good starting position and not having to try to drive‑‑ you're not going to be able to pass 20 cars in a run probably, so qualifying is going to be essential, and track position is going to mean a lot.
Q. Where are you guys, your team, with this car as opposed to where you thought you might be at this point?
BOBBY LABONTE: We're further off than we thought we'd be. We just got out of a meeting and were talking about between a Martinsville short track where we might have had too much of one thing, not enough of something else, and then the big tracks that we feel like we're not using all of our potential that we had last year, and it's just a‑‑ the body change, we've had a few other changes we've got to look at. We're just going to try to cross all our Ts and dot all of our Is. Just seems like we've actually stepped back one step. Just a matter of trying to look back at a little different angle on it because we've got a great group.
I mean, this is a lot‑‑ we're a lot further ahead than we were last year at this time, but we're just not applying it like we should. Meetings like today and Ryan and Bobby and Joey and Tony and all the guys, talking more, we're just trying to‑‑ now that we've got to the racetrack we've just got to figure out where we're missing some things that we don't have, like last year we knew we had a rear bar, we knew we had skew in the car, we knew we had this and that, and this year we don't have it. What are we not applying to make it be like it should? That's why that half a day on Thursday is going to be real important for us.
Q. I was just kind of wondering, with Texas I know y'all started out here and whatnot and I had the privilege of going to one of those races when I was a kid back in '97. Can you describe for me the progression that you've seen at Texas? What's changed from where they were at because the start there was horrible as far as the first two years and the first two corners, up to where they've progressed now, and if you've had any impact on that as a driver.
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, I think it's like anything. They built a great racetrack, a great facility. You know, by far it's one of the best venues that we go to on the circuit each year. You know, it's no different than any of the tracks at some point in time throughout ‑‑ whatever it might be, a short track in Volusia County, Florida, had issues at one time, and other places, and Martinsville had a piece of concrete come up years ago that hit Jeff Gordon's car.
Texas was the place where‑‑ it's a fast, fast racetrack, a lot of grip, go off into Turn 1, 10‑car pileup, 12‑car pileup. They redid the track, redid the surface, the drainage issues. Once you look back at it, I mean, it's not like‑‑ everything they did was to‑‑ they built the racetrack the best it could be built and it was done great, it just took a little time to get it seasoned in. Everybody there has done a great job. Eddie Gossage and Bruton, we all applaud them for building a great facility, and the few things that kind of caught everybody off guard, which would have done anybody that way, whether it was them or somebody else, they've always come back and fixed them and made them better.
You know, I think it's cool to go to a fast racetrack, and it's one of the fastest ones we go to. Again, they've done a great job, and they pack the grandstands in, and hopefully they'll see a great race come Saturday night.
Q. I kind of wish you were making your 700th start down here in Texas, but with that said, do you feel like you've got another 100 in the tank? Do you feel like you can go to 1,000? Where are you at as a driver?
BOBBY LABONTE: Let me get to 700 first, and I'll tell you later.
I don't know, I mean, I never would have thought I'd get to 700, so I'm not going to‑‑ I can't apply anything past today, so we'll just‑‑ thank goodness I've got to this point and been blessed to do that, and we'll just keep going to 700 first. You never know what life holds in store for you two or three years down the road.
Q. I was wondering if just overall you could talk about what some of the biggest challenges have been with the Gen‑6 car this year, and also how it compares driving‑wise not only to the Generation 5 car but also the Generation 4 car before that.
BOBBY LABONTE: Well, our challenges this year have just really been we haven't been to the racetrack to test but one time, so we really haven't found any‑‑ maybe we haven't seen the nuances that we need to have with the body style that's different. Obviously the skew in the rear housing that a lot of guys were going to last year, you can't do the tolerances, we can't push any of the limits on in comparison to last year, and I think that's kind of putting us in a place trying to figure out where we need to put all of our efforts at on the race car. We seem like every time we've had an opportunity to do a practice at Las Vegas we had issues with the brakes. We haven't been able to go to a track to test yet besides Charlotte back when it was 32 degrees.
That's kind of our Gen‑6 story. And then compared to last year in the Gen‑5 car, everybody kind of had it figured out a little bit. That's why we're at Gen‑6, and in about five, six, seven years we'll have a Gen‑7 car because once we figure it out you've got to start over again so not everybody will have it as a pattern.
But compared to last year's car, the car is not quite as stable as it was last year for me. We've got to figure that out, and I'm sure we will, front end, back end, side force numbers. We're working on that as we go. And then the fact, too, that in comparison to the car before that there is no comparison. The older body style I'll call it, the car before, was really a lot different driving than then.
So they all drive a little bit different, but once you get one that‑‑ I'm sure Jimmie Johnson's car this weekend at Martinsville probably didn't drive too much different than last year's. The package that they have works really good, so they probably don't have a lot changed. But I might be wrong, but it looked to me it was better than it was or similar to what it was last year, and just as fast if not a little faster than it was last year.
Q. You're a cyclist and you hold an event called the Share the Road Memorial Ride. Can you tell us about that event and who it benefits?
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, if I can get my‑‑ if I can remember everything about who it benefits. But Bikes Belong is one of them, and then Backpacks For Kids, I can't remember the exact name of it, we're able to provide food with kids on the weekends that their families can't provide food for them in the Randolph County area. So it's Backpacks For Kids. And then Bikes Belong, meaning bicyclists on the road, look after their safety on the road because they are cyclists. They are out there as well as cars, and you just‑‑ obviously they don't have things around them like a car would have, so you've just got to be careful of them.
But it's a cycling event that I have, and it's the Share the Road Memorial, basically from a few friends of ours that have lost their lives riding bicycles in our area.
This will be our third year. Last year we had about 250 cyclists and hope to have a lot more than that this year, and it's held on Sunday after the All‑Star Race in May. I think that's May 19th. So we'll do a 70K, a 50K and a 30K ride and have food and entertainment, some gifts, and the cycling community is just‑‑ they're an awesome crowd, and been able to be fortunate enough to be a part of it and to ride a bike and to meet a lot of people that ride bikes and just really do appreciate everybody's sincere help in the cause of raising money for different charities, just getting together and being a part of a cycling family you might call it.
Q. I can remember back at the different tracks when you were starting racing, we the media people used to know you as one of the good ol' boys, and you still are one of the good ol' boys, so keep up the great racing.
BOBBY LABONTE: Thank you. I appreciate that, and I'm glad to be part of that.
Q. Years ago you used to come up here to Ohio, a track called Kil‑Kare with your son's quarter midget racing. Are they still racing?
BOBBY LABONTE: No, sir. My son will be 19 next month, so he's not racing anything. He's getting ready for college.
Q. About the starts and being one of the good ol' boys, your popularity began and it's done well and you're still voted in the top 10. What do you think you have that fans enjoy and like so much over the years, and what do you like about fans?
BOBBY LABONTE: I guess I came about at the right time and maybe studied my peers that I was racing against when I came up. I kind of feel like my place and how my personality is and how I was raised is to be a certain way. I try not to be too vocal and try to be‑‑ if you're going to be vocal about things, privacy sometimes is the best place to have it. Try not to cause a big ruckus on the track.
I don't claim to be a guy that's going to go around and try to figure out ‑ I don't know how I should say it ‑ make more out of me than I am. I feel like, again, the way I grew up, watching my brother race and Ricky Rudd and everybody you learned from, whether they're a bad guy or a good guy or an intimidator, which was obviously the intimidator, but when I got to know him behind the scenes, how awesome that was, or how awesome he is or he was. So learned from that.
So I guess it's just‑‑ again, I feel like I've been raised by my parents and what I've looked for in my brother and other people like that. So I guess that's where it puts me.
And the fans, I mean, I just can't say enough about the loyalty in the sport of NASCAR, not just Bobby Labonte, but from day one, Richard Petty, I grew up watching him right there in Randolph County, and what he does for the‑‑ for racing and people in that area. So the fans are supportive, and I've been, again, just blessed to be put in the right place at the right time for being able to start 700 races here shortly and to have a fan following that people hopefully appreciate the integrity of me, how I am.
THE MODERATOR: Bobby, we wish you the best of luck this weekend in Texas.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|