Labonte talks about new NASCAR race car

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams were supposed to begin a two-day test session at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway on Thursday, but rain cancelled all on-track activity. Instead, the session was abbreviated to one day, Friday. As weather halted activity on Thursday, Bobby Labonte discussed the 2013 Sprint Cup car and preseason testing, up until that point. Here’s what the 2000 series champion had to say (see video at bottom of page):

How do you think your race team is handling the transition to the new car?

"I think things are coming around pretty good for our race team.  We were at the test here (Charlotte) back in December and
we brought the same car back here today.  I think as far as progress goes with our race team, we've seen a lot of good things
in our shop and the car itself.  The times that we've been testing, it seems to be okay.  We didn't do any drafting at Daytona.
We were here at a test and I was driving a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) car before the last test here and did some stuff
with (Joe) Gibbs Racing, with their car and did some traffic -- drafted I guess.  It's just trying to figure it out.  I guess if we
were not to have this test, you'd get to the track and figure it out anyway.  We're just trying to get everything we can as much
as possible.  I'm encouraged by a lot of the things the new car is telling me.  I feel good there's a potential and possibility
there to hopefully make things better for the fans, which is the obvious goal of this whole thing, to get racing better and
competition better.  We'll see how it goes, but so far I'm kind of liking what I see."

How is the chemistry developing with your crew chief Brian Burns?

"I've worked with Brian (Burns, crew chief) now for a couple years.  He was at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) two years
ago and then last year he was an engineer at our race shop and we kind of put him in the crew chief role halfway through last
year.  Bobby Hutchens (general manager), myself and Tad (Geschickter, co-owner) and Brad (Daugherty, co-owner) were all
encouraged by his capabilities to do that job.  As you throw somebody into the fire, that's not the right way to do it, but it is a
good test to see how they can handle it.  We feel like he's the one in our shop that knows the way the organization works and
is definitely a top man in our position to put him back in the fire, but in the role of understanding it's more permanent for
him.  It's the title that goes along with it, not just interim.  Brian has a different outlook on it, instead of knowing he has three
jobs, he only has one job to do now or less of the other jobs and continues to make that positive for him."

How does the new car differ for your driving style compared to last year's version?

"I think it's hard to say on the track just yet.  I feel like it's comparable to last year as well.  I can't say that there's a huge
difference in a lot of ways.  The two tests that we've had -- Daytona is kind of different because we didn't draft -- I don't
know that one yet.  You adapt to it.  For me, I'm excited about it.  It's going to be different now than it will be in six months
and change a little bit as it goes like setups and stuff like that.  I hope the biggest thing for me is the cars being so equal that
they're not too equal to a certain point where you can still work on things and make a difference.  The things we are able to
do will make a difference.  That's probably the biggest thing.  I feel like when I drive it, it feels like a normal thing.  Can't
really say one way or another, it's not like a big change because it still kind of feels the same as it did with the old car here a
few months ago.  Until we get in race conditions, we won't know."

How adaptable will this car be to different driving styles?

"I don't know.  Each team is going to be different anyway in how they make it work for them.  Hopefully I won't turn a bitter
leaf and say, 'I can't stand something about it.'  You just have to keep working at it and just keep finding things that you
need to find to make your team better, whether it's the actual metal of the car or the stuff that goes in it.  I think if we can
look at it through a positive glass and say we're going to make it the best we can, I think we can.  I'm excited about it.  I can't
really say I can look at the old car -- I mean at times I could say, 'This thing wouldn't turn in a 40 acre field.'  But I've said
that about my Late Model stock at Caraway (Speedway), too.  You can still fight those things with a lot of cars and I think
that's just nature sometimes.  If it didn't work out, you're going to be wishing it was something else."

Will your team be able to take advantage of the new testing rules in NASCAR?

"I don't know and haven't really thought about it myself.  I hadn't thought about the four test rule that much and didn't think
about the money thing until you brought it up.  I appreciate you reminding us about that one.  I do know about it, but it's
something that we'll have to look at and see and use our resources as best we can.  I know that's what we'll do.  We'll use
every available resource we can get from TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and we'll do the best we can.  I feel like things
that we've learned -- if we're not able to go somewhere, but we're able to go somewhere a little closer to save $50,000 or
whatever, if it helps us out, we'll do that.  I think there's a lot of positives in the testing rule for us, too.  We just have to make
sure we use it the right way."

How has racing changed, with the exception of the car, from the past?

"There's a lot of truth in everything you said there.  When you've done this for a while and you look around at pictures and
that car style and that tire, the competition was different then.  You adapt to that situation, using the soft tire or hard tire
situation as an example.  A guy that's been around and knocked the wall around with the softer tire situation, would abuse
them, then you learn to control that.  Not to say the tires are harder, but they're better.  Getting to that point, we've talked
about it for years -- every lap is like qualifying.  You adapt to it.  You have to change not just your mental thought about it,
but how you drive the car as well.  Whether you know you're 80 percent in the throttle here now than five, 10 years ago you
were only 60 percent in the throttle here.  All the changes and the obvious, the car in the picture in the background -- we
might have thought it drove good, but it didn't drive that good either.  You struggle with it and you fought it and it slid all
day.  I think you just adapt to the times and the situation.  Each year I continue to tell people -- friends and fans out there --
that the competition gets so much more fierce and so much harder.  Then you throw the fact that you've done this for a while
and you have a certain set of -- your skill set is -- hey, I'm not really sure I want to knock that wall down again, I've done it
20 times, I don't want to do it again.  You know you don't want to push the car to the point where it's going to break on you
or whatever.  That skill set still applies because you have a 500 mile race, a 400 mile race and you have to make sure you do
everything you can to go as fast as you can, but still not tear yourself up.  You go back to the other guy and he doesn't have
the baggage that goes with that.  He knows this race is 500 or 600 miles, he's going to go flat-out.  It might not work for him
for a while, but a lot of adaptability that I have to put into it knowing that this upcoming Coke 600 here is different than it
was in 1995 when I won it.  You just have to adapt to it and know the car is going to do this, the tire is going to do that and
by race time you hope you have it figured out better than anyone else."

Do you feel ahead of where you were this time last year?

"Absolutely.  Obviously we'll find out about performance.  Absolutely in my mind and our physical status at the shop is
amazing from a year ago to now.  We actually had a backup car at Daytona with us, which I heard some cars didn't have two
cars prepared for that event.  We had two.  Again as I go through the shop and have been through the shop, see the
organization and see the chassis ready for bodies to be put on them, to see consistency and to see improvement in every area
instead of build your foundation and also race at the same time.  A lot of encouraging things.  We just hope that it does play
out in the performance part and I feel like again, confidence-wise, Brian (Burns, crew chief) is in the right place.  You have
Bobby Hutchens (general manager) in there making sure we're crossing all the 'T's' and dotting all the 'I's'.  It's exciting to
me to see the difference between a year ago and today.  The single car team is still there, but we've got a lot of support from
Toyota and a lot of encouragement there.  Last year to not even go to Daytona (test) to this point today is really leaps and
bounds for our race team."

What do you predict you'll learn at this Charlotte test?

"I think between the last test here (Charlotte) and this test, you'll see a possibility of teams being prepared.  There's no doubt
that there's probably a little bit of tweaking of the rules before we'd come to the Las Vegas race.  If there's anything like that,
that could happen and somebody had something to take away.  I think the preparation from the race team and the skill set that
each race team puts out there, if you're -- I don't think the fastest guy out here tomorrow will be on the list.  That's just like
Daytona is the first day of school.  You can make a lot out of it, but I don't know it's going to be true gospel.  If you see the
lineup tomorrow afternoon, you're going to say that's the way it's going to be for the year -- there's no way it can be.  You'll
see the teams doing the right things will always continue to do the right things."

-- Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR

Topics: Bobby Labonte, NASCAR

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