Former NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte took time out of Tuesday's test session at the Daytona International Speedway to talk about the monotony of testing and how his race team is preparing for the new season. Here's what he had to say:
Question: How is testing at Daytona from the viewpoint of a driver?
Labonte: Well, you have to make it interesting, I guess. It is the start of a new year for us, and it is a little monotonous to go out there and run for two laps or three laps and maybe not pick up any speed or maybe pick up speed. So, as far as the driver is concerned, it's not that exciting. But it does give our team an opportunity to come down here and learn a few things and get our program started for the new season. That's part of it too - not just the speed of today, but to get everybody together in the group to mesh and to communicate real good. It's not a race time, but it's a time for us to do that.
Question: How did you find out your car owner, Joe Gibbs, was getting back into football as the head coach of the Washington Redskins?
Labonte: Joe called me (Jan. 5) and was talking to me. I think if I would have said, 'What do you want?' he would have told me. But it was around 10 at night when he called and I was in bed. So he said, "I'll just talk to you tomorrow." So first thing when I got there Tuesday morning - I got there early - he grabbed me and told me what the deal was. Obviously, I was surprised, but after talking to him for 15 minutes and looking at it I could see where the timing was right for him to do that. I'm excited because I think it's a great opportunity for him and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Question: But aren't you a Dallas Cowboys fan?
Labonte: I kind of go different ways depending on which way the wind is blowing. The other night with the Cowboys and the Panthers, I wasn't really pulling for either one of them really. If one of them won, I'd pull for them to go further, obviously. At the same time, I've been gone from Texas for so long I'm a fan of football and of the Cowboys, but I'm also a fan of the Panthers. I'll be a fan of Washington because of Joe Gibbs. It's no different than a lot of football fans are race fans because of Joe Gibbs. That'll be the same thing for me.
Question: Will you change the way you drive to fit with the new points system NASCAR will install for the upcoming season?
Labonte: I think it's more or less 26 races, not 36 races. I still thing you're going to have to be consistent to be in the top 10 in points at the end. I don't think you'll change your strategy that way you'll just have a short season. Obviously you won't be able to rebound in the final third of the season like you used to if you did. But I still think you have to be consistent, obviously. You might be able to win five races but you still don't want to have five (did-not-finishes). That still plays in hand. I think we'll learn and strategize as we go. That's the way I think it is but it might change. Consistency is still going to play a part of it. For the final 10 races, you've still got to go out there and be consistent. You want to go out there and do the best you can. It's just going to be starting over. You'll have a 10-race series instead of a 26-race series. You might not win a race in the last 10 races but you might win the championship.
Question: How does your team need to improve this year?
Labonte: Last year we had good stretches and bad stretches. Our consistency was off some last year. The middle part of the year we struggled with things. By the last third of the season we were gaining on it. We just need to get our consistency back. You're still going to have that for the first 26 races.
Question: How important is it to start the season with a good finish in the Daytona 500?
Labonte: It's real important. We want to start the year off right. We'd like to come down here and have a good week. It can go either way. I've seen guys win the race here and not win any more races all year. Or, you can come down here and finish dead last like Tony (Stewart) and I have, you can still come back and finish in the top 10 in points. It doesn't make you or break you, but it seems like it makes it easier. Joe Gibbs has won this before with Dale Jarrett. I've been fortunate enough to win some other big races but this is one I haven't won. It would be great to win this one.