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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 5, 2006
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series teleconference. It's in advance of Sunday's Samsung Radio Shack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Quickly, as always before we get started, I'd like to remind media attending this weekend's event that the weekly Nextel Wake-Up Call is going to be on Friday at 11 a.m. in the infield media center with Troy Aikman, former NFL quarterback and now co-owner of the Hall of Fame Racing team with another great NFL quarterback, former NFL quarterback Roger Staubach. Aikman will be the special guest.
On today's call we have two special guests joining us, two-time series champion Terry Labonte and Tony Raines. Terry opened up his season-opening stint with the Hall of Fame team's No. 96 DLP(r) HDTV Chevrolet. Tony took over the ride this past week at Martinsville.
Terry has switched over to the No. 44 Kellogg's Chevrolet of Hendrick Motorsports. He'll drive the 44 for 10 races. He's scheduled to end his great career - he says this is definitely going to be it - at this season's second Texas Motor Speedway event in November.
We'll start off with a quick opening comment from each of you, then we'll go right to the media for some questions.
Terry, from Corpus Christi, racing in your home state this weekend, wrapping things up in November. How special have these Texas races been to you over the last 10 years?
TERRY LABONTE: They've been really special. It was real exciting win the event down there, I think it was in '99. It's a great facility. I always look forward to going down there. We've got a lot of friends and relatives that come up for the race there.
When Bruton Smith and those guys built that track down there, I don't think the people down there realized how big a deal it was going to be. It's just been a huge success. It really makes you proud to be from Texas, you go down there and have a facility like that.
HERB BRANHAM: Absolutely. Tony, how does it feel to be back in the race car?
TONY RAINES: Well, it felt real good. 400, 500 laps at Martinsville, that's a long day trying to stay out of trouble there. Just real happy to be involved and thankful for Terry, the first five races he didn't tear up anything, and I got -- unfortunately, I'll probably be the first one to crash the car there. Try to do that not too soon hopefully.
Just excited to be in there.
HERB BRANHAM: Excellent. We'll go right to questions from the media for Terry Labonte and Tony Raines.
Q. Tony, can you talk about the northern Indiana connection we seem to have going now.
TONY RAINES: It's pretty interesting. Actually, I think in that area, lower Michigan and Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, it's just a serious hotbed of racing. I think if you can get to the level where you run well there and you can win races, you're pretty talented. There's a bunch of really good drivers that never went outside that area, that stayed there and raced for years.
Man, they're tough. It kind of raises your game. I think that's just proof, the guys that have come out of there, they've all run well.
Q. Tony, can you discuss a little bit just about the pressure that you might be under this week with this race in Texas, given that Texas Motor Speedway has emerged as something of the home court, I guess, for the Staubach-Aikman team.
TONY RAINES: Yeah, actually watching Terry race at Bristol was about the most pressure because I thought if he has a bad race there and we fall in the points, I have a bad race in Martinsville, that will be the last place on the earth I want to be, Texas, that weekend, if it were actually that way. It went well in Bristol, we're all in good shape. All that's regarding the top 35. Although I feel it wouldn't be a problem if we weren't, going there with that out of the way, that's one less issue to deal with because there's a lot of folks from DLP(r) going to be there. Roger and Troy are going to be there in Texas. Terry is going to be out there racing against us, too. There's a whole plateful of issues. We've gotten most of those sorted out. I think once I get past Texas, the rest of the season will be a breeze.
Q. Tony, you alluded to a moment ago about the top 35 in points, with a good race in Bristol everything was in fairly good shape. What was the pressure like for you going to Martinsville, still the team was in that area where it could be close if there was a bad race or two once you took over the car?
TONY RAINES: Yeah, that's really what I was most nervous about. Martinsville isn't necessarily that hard to drive by yourself. When you pack that many cars out there, there's just events that happen there. You might be running well and somebody spins out, you get caught up in it. I dreaded that worst-case scenario. Best-case scenario, go there, qualify well, you race well, stay out of trouble, everything works out. That's easier said than done.
I really felt -- we're still not out of the woods yet by any means. It's so competitive, so tight from 25th to 35th, it's going to be a dogfight all year, to be honest.
Like I said, getting through Martinsville and Texas was my biggest -- that was what was making me most nervous because I think once we get past that, there's a lot of good racetracks that I'm comfortable with. We'll have tracks we're going to go to again and again so we can build a notebook and have some notes when we come back there the second time. I think we'll get better as that goes on.
Just getting out of the gate safely, in good shape, was what I was most concerned about. On top of all that, when you go to Texas, you can race there. If you have a 15th-place car, even if you have a bad stop, get mired in the back, you can work your way up there. At Martinsville, a few guys did it, but they paid the price for it most of the time. We just kind of got stuck back there and was playing it safe. That's where we ended up.
Good so far.
Q. Terry, with a new team such as Hall of Fame Racing coming on board, how did it feel to you for them to come up and ask you to help them get their team started? I know a couple of times the past champions provisional had to be used to get in the field. To have them ask you to then them get their team started and get things going for 2006, how did that make you feel for such a new organization?
TERRY LABONTE: Well, I was really honored to be asked to be a part of their team. You know, that's just a huge undertaking, to start a new team like this. They've got some experienced people there, but none of them have ever worked together before. Like Tony said before, there's no notebook that says last time we were here, this was our car, this was our setup, this is how things went. Everything was new.
They weren't familiar with the equipment. They weren't familiar with the cars. I wasn't familiar with them. The people here are all different. That's a lot more difficult than people realize I think when you start a new team like that. The hardest part for that team is going to be the first part of the year, the first time by a lot of these racetracks. When they go by the second time, they're going to have some notes, they're going to be able to say, "This is what we did. This is what we need to work on." It was pretty difficult. It was hard, no question about it.
The other hard part about it, when you go and you have a new team, which people don't even realize this, you go and you have about an hour and a half of practice. That's if everybody's through inspection. When you have a new team, no points, they're practicing, you're still going through inspections. I think for two of the events we had 45 minutes of practice was all. That's kind of asking a lot for a new team like that, to just go and unload and be good off the truck.
It's going to be a long -- kind of a long learning process for them. I think there will be huge gains made second time by these racetracks.
Q. Terry, you've been around the best at Hendrick. As you look around this new operation, do you think they have what it takes to be where they want to be?
TERRY LABONTE: I don't think they know that yet. You can't really judge that in just the first few races, I don't think. I think that's something that Philippe and those guys are going to continue to look at and just try to improve every little part they've got. You can't just work on a few things; they've got to work on everything. They'll work hard at trying to get that thing better.
Probably the biggest battle they're up against is patience. Everybody's got to be a little bit patient with them 'cause it's not easy. You're running against teams that have been at it for 20 years. Start out with a new team is really, really difficult.
I think they're going to be fine, but it's going to take them a little while for them to get to where they need to be.
Q. Aside from the people and the mechanics, do you sense a vibe that they know what they're getting into and this thing could succeed on an intangible level?
TERRY LABONTE: Oh, I think it's going to succeed. When you look at Roger and Troy, they've been successful in everything they've done. I think they're dedicated to making this thing work. Like I said, though, it's difficult when you first start out. There's going to be a learning curve for everybody involved here.
I think -- but they do have some good people. That makes the difference. These guys are going to work hard at getting this thing going in the right direction.
Q. Terry, what was it like for the team to get slapped with that points deduction right out of the box at Daytona when basically everyone said it wasn't Hall of Fame's fault about the carburetor?
TERRY LABONTE: Yeah, that was pretty disappointing I think for everybody involved on the team because, you know, they leased their engines from Joe Gibbs Racing, the carburetor, the whole bit. Hall of Fame Racing doesn't even own a carburetor. They got beat up in the media about this and things. Really, they had nothing to do with it. It was pretty unfortunate to kind of have that happen to them down there.
On top of that, it wasn't even an advantage. It was just a mistake. Unfortunately, it was a mistake that never should have happened, but it did. These guys had nothing to do with it.
First time I've ever been -- first I'm I've ever been penalized and had points taken away. It was kind of surprising I think for all of us.
Q. Terry, I'm assuming you get quite a reception coming home when you race at Texas. Can you relay your opinion being at the track, the fans' reaction to you? I know this is putting you on the spot, are there any stories off the top of your head that you can relay about your homecoming in the past?
TERRY LABONTE: I don't think -- I think my biggest memory of racing down there in Texas was the race that we won back there a few years ago when I passed Darrel Jarrett late in the race with probably less than 10 laps to go. It's the first time I've ever noticed the crowd. The whole crowd stood up. I thought to myself, "Oh, God, I think everybody here is pulling for me." We made the pass. We won the race. I thought that was the coolest thing. It's the first time I ever really noticed a crowd during the event. I thought, "I can't mess up here. They're really happy right now. If I screw up, they're not going to be." That was pretty cool.
Q. Terry, what do you think Troy and Roger have learned in this short time of being actually on the racetrack?
TERRY LABONTE: You know, I don't know. I mean, I'm not sure. That's a good question for them, I guess. This is something that's new for these guys. It's different. It's hard to say what they've learned. I'm sure they've learned an awful lot in really a short period of time. I'm not sure. That's a good question for one of those guys.
Definitely probably the biggest challenge for them is it's different. This is kind of a different area than they're used to, a different sport than they're used to participating in.
Q. Final 10 races of your career, have you thought about how you will approach them? Will you approach them differently, say, as though you'll savor every moment you're at the track and in the car?
TERRY LABONTE: I really haven't thought about it. We're going to run the 10 races here for Hendrick. Our final race will be in November out here in Texas. We picked out some of my favorite tracks we're going to.
I don't know. I'm kind of looking forward to going to naturally all these tracks that we're going to participate at. I haven't really thought about it that much. It's probably going to sink in when it gets closer to the last race in Texas, I guess.
Q. Terry, how much did you have to mentor Tony? Did you feel like a teacher there?
TERRY LABONTE: I think it was the other way around really. You know, I just kind of try to give him my opinion on things, maybe try to help him with some areas they could be a little bit better at. I don't know. I think they've got some good people there. I think Tony's going to do a great job. I think it's a great opportunity for him. I hope that I contributed a little bit to their team. I told them after California, "I don't think I'm helping you as much as I'd hoped to."
It's so hard with a new team. It's just difficult to get started like that. It's going to take them a little while to get going, like I said earlier. I think it's a great opportunity for Tony. I think he's going to do a great job. They've got some good people on the team. It just takes a little while sometimes for everything to come together. With all new equipment and things, don't really have a track record on their cars, what they're running where. There's a lot of little things that are going to have to get ironed out, and will. I just takes a little time.
Q. How weird will it be racing against the 96 car out there?
TERRY LABONTE: I'll be real careful around him because he's got a lot of in-car cameras and stuff (laughter).
Q. Terry and Tony, can you sense team momentum building? Do you know when you are likely to run well?
TERRY LABONTE: I think, definitely. There's no question about it. Every time that I've been on a team that has really done well, the kind of chemistry between the team and the momentum, it just -- I mean, you just feel it. You can go out there and practice. You can come in. I've had guys that work on my car that I don't hardly have to tell them anything, they know what to do to it. You just kind of get in that zone, I guess. Everything's working right, everybody's on the same page.
When you get the momentum going, man, I tell you what, it gives everybody a lot of confidence. You got a lot of confidence in your equipment and the changes that you're making, the personnel on your team, pit stops, everything. It just helps the whole deal.
TONY RAINES: You know, what Terry did, I was there at all the races. He just kind of was, you know, like a father figure there. He just kind of got everybody kind of going the right direction, didn't get -- nobody got bent out of shape, like the penalty things at Daytona. It was a slow building of momentum.
When I got my chance to get in the car, you know, I didn't want to change any of that. I wanted to kind of keep that going, going in the right direction. He'd already got it started that way obviously.
As the team gets stronger, as they get a little more experience, as they go to each race together, they get more confidence in each other, the communication starts flowing better. I think, like Terry said a while ago, as the year goes on, we start having opportunities to repeat, do stuff, learn from it, you can't help but get better.
Q. Terry, you're talking about 10 races and out. What are you going to miss most when it's all done?
TERRY LABONTE: You know, I don't know. Honestly it will be the people. I've got a lot of friends. I've done this for years. I've got a lot of friends that I've worked with over the years that are still involved in the sport. To me that will be the thing I'll miss the most, some of the people involved in the sport. I guess that's the answer.
Q. What do you plan on doing next?
TERRY LABONTE: I have no idea. I have no idea (laughter). I mean, I've done this for a long time. I don't know. It's time to move on and do something else, you know. I've been very fortunate to have been with good teams over the years, to have won some races, won a couple of championships. But this limited schedule deal that I run last year and this year is pretty neat. I really like that. It kind of just made me realize that maybe it's time to move on because I didn't really miss being at the races like I thought I was going to miss it.
I don't know. It's kind of a weird feeling, I guess. I think there comes a point in your life after you do something for so long that you kind of want to do something else. That's kind of where I'm at.
Q. Tony, as Terry pointed out, you need to have some patience. What is your own expectation as far as the rest of the season? Would you be disappointed if you don't have a few top 10s, top fives, a win? What are you personally hoping you'll be able to accomplish in the first season?
TONY RAINES: When I was interviewing with Roger and Troy, I told them I thought I could run top 25 worst-case scenario, and therefore be top 25 in points, you would think. That's kind of I guess saying that kind of gives me a little room to do better. We'll have bumps and bruises. We might have bad days and not run that well.
I'd really like to run top 10. I think maybe we can do that. It's just how soon, I don't know. I think if everything lines up right, you could possibly win a race. It's like Terry was saying a while ago, I don't think people on the outside realize just how tough the sport can be or it is. To run top five consistently takes an incredible amount of effort. I think we can sneak in there and run that way on occasion.
As a new team, our biggest goal is staying in the top 35. Me personally, I think if we could end the year 25th or better in the points, I would consider that a success for an upstart team. You always want to do better than that. 25th in points at the end of the year, there will be a good team there, whether it's us or whether we're above that or below that. That's kind of where I'm shooting at personally.
Q. Can you give an assessment on your own opinions on where Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach are as far as being owners or investors. Some are more hands-on. Do you think they're going to become more hands-on as things go along here?
TONY RAINES: I think they're more than just investors. They're competitive people as they were on the field. They are also off the field. Bill Saunders, the managing partner said, Roger, he's so competitive, he wants to beat you at tiddly-winks. He's just that way. As they learn and see things, 'cause they both have confessed they don't really know much about racing, but they've worked with teams that have a lot of people on it. That's what we have. We have a race team with 35, 40 employees. There's always things to be improved or gained on in that respect. They know how to deal with that.
Anything they can do to help us get better, they want to do that. They want to see this team succeed because they're involved with it but because we also have a sponsorship from Texas Instruments that's kind of close to their heart and soul. It's all a big circle. They're going to do whatever they can to make it work.
TERRY LABONTE: I think Tony pretty much answered everything there. I think those guys are serious about it. I think they're going to learn a lot here in a short period of time. When they come to the racetrack, it kind of takes everything to a new level because these guys are big-name guys, very successful in their careers, successful after their careers.
I think they're going to be involved in it. They understand it's going to be tough. I talked to Roger one day. They've got some realistic, very realistic goals, and that is top 25 in the points at the end of the year. That's good. They know it's hard. It's not like they're expecting to go out there and win every weekend. These guys understand what it takes to build a team, how to get things going.
Q. Terry, after six races, can you sense who really has their act together team-wise, who you are surprised is struggling?
TERRY LABONTE: I don't know. I think -- gosh, I don't know. It looks like Stewart's team is back on track. I think obviously the Hendrick Motorsports guys are good. The Roush team. It will definitely come down, to win a championship, if it's not one of those guys, it will be a surprise.
I think one thing that could throw a wrinkle in the deal would be Kasey Kahne and the Evernham team. They've really run good. Kasey runs good everywhere. I'm surprised -- not really surprised, but he ran awful good at Martinsville. I know they had trouble. They were sitting there up in the points standings.
I don't know. It's really kind of too early to tell. I think it's going to be the same guys, Roush, Hendrick, Tony Stewart's team. You might have another one in there like Kasey Kahne.
HERB BRANHAM: Terry, Tony, thank you very much for taking this time today. Just wanted to thank all the media for participating. Have a good afternoon.
TERRY LABONTE: Thank you.
TONY RAINES: Thank you.
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