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NASCAR WCUP: Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart Practice Quotes, Daytona

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel

(HIS THOUGHTS HEADING INTO QUALIFYING FOR THE DAYTONA 500) "We were fair testing. We weren't bad. I'm sure we'll be a little bit better for qualifying, which a lot of people will. We didn't do any drafting while we were down here testing. We'll get seven or eight days of it down here, so I figure that will be plenty.

"As far as the race goes, it's going to be any man's ballgame, I'm sure."

(ON THE ATTITUDE OF HIS TEAM HEADING INTO THE 2001 SEASON) "We're really exciting about it. We've got everything in place. We're working real hard on trying to do the same thing that we did last year, which is not going to be the easiest thing, but it's something that we can work on. Even though we won the championship last year, there are still areas that we want to work on to make better. We have to do that because everybody else is going to do that. Our competitors our going to be trying to find something that makes them faster than us. We'll go through that all year long and we'll just have to see how it comes out."

(ON THE PRESSURES AND DEMANDS OF BEING DEFENDING WINSTON CUP CHAMPION) "There is definitely a lot more, but that's just part of it. I'm sure there is no doubt that if I had been in Jeff's (Jeff Gordon's) shoes for what he has done for the past few years that I would feel different than I do today. Right now, I feel great about it and I feel like it's still definitely a lot of fun. You just have to go out there and keep doing what you've been doing and enjoy that. A breather every now and then probably would be nice, but at the same time you just want to keep going."

(ON THE MEDIA AND FAN CRUSH THAT NOW ACCOMPANIES WINSTON CUP RACING) "That's OK in a lot of ways. What probably is going to be more nerve-wracking or intense this year over the past years is the addition of two more races. That's going to add to it. Tempers or attitudes could be short at the end of the year. I don't know - I hope not. But no matter what it is, whether it's a professional athlete playing baseball or your wife staying at home with two kids - enough is enough and everybody needs a break from the grind or from something to get away. Is three weekends enough throughout the year? I don't know yet, but it sure doesn't seem like it would be what you would want for as many races as we run. But, at the same time, you just try to go out there and not let it bother you."

(IT SEEMS TOUGH FOR ANY PROFESSIONAL TEAM TO DEFEND A TITLE - WHAT DO YOU THINK?) "I don't know. How about the (New York) Yankees? It's not hard for them. I don't know what they've got, but we went to their stadium so maybe we picked up some of their luck or some of their 'stuff.' I can't explain why. Heck, I've only won one. I've never tried to defend one, so we'll just have to wait and see. But we're going to give it our best shot. "We can't do the same thing we did last year and win. We've got to go out there and do better."

(ON JIMMY MAKAR BEING SO COMITTED TO SUCCESS) "He is that type of guy. He is really intense. He eats, sleeps and drinks racing. He reminds me of my dad in a lot of ways - a long time ago. He is just always thinking on it. Jimmy's intense. He is just as pumped now to come here as he was last year when he came here."

(ANY THOUGHTS ON HAVING THE SPORT'S "SUPER BOWL" AS THE OPENING RACE OF THE YEAR?) "I haven't done it any different, so I wouldn't know what it would feel like to have it in July or at the end of the year. This is great and it's working, so I don't think I'd change it. If it's not broken, don't fix it."

(IS IT TOUGH TO START WITH A RACE OF THIS MAGNITUDE?) "I don't see where this is any tougher than Rockingham or Atlanta or anything like that. They are all the same. One's got a little more hoopla than maybe the next one, but that's about it." (WHAT WOULD A WIN IN THE DAYTONA 500 MEAN?) "It would be incredible. This is one race that you would definitely put on top of your list of races to win. We hope that we can come out here this weekend and do the best we can and be a contender and have a shot at it. That's all we can ask for. We'd love to be able to do that."

(DOES IT FEEL DIFFERENT HAVING EVERYBODY SHOOTING AT YOU THIS YEAR?) "I don't think it's any different than any other year. We're also starting off at zero this year. Everybody wants to do the same thing that we did last year. All the drivers are wanting the same thing. All the teams are wanting to do the same thing that we did, just like last year we wanted to what the '88' (Dale Jarrett) did. People are trying to do the same thing and we know that we've got to improve ourselves over last year."

(WHAT KIND OF RACE DO YOU EXPECT IN THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT?) "Everybody will be trying things out. You don't want to call it a practice event because it's a race. Where you start is probably not the most important thing, but you'd like to start up front. It's going to be shuffled around. Will it be like Talladega? I'm not sure, but it has the makings of it. The guy from 18th might win. The guy leading with two laps to go might finish 18th. We'll just have to see how all that plays out. But it's got all the tendencies that it could be like Talladega."

(WHAT ARE SOME OF THE AREAS THAT YOU WANT TO TRY TO IMPROVE THIS YEAR?) "The short tracks probably weren't as good...well, hold it - they never have been good, so that's one thing that we want to work on to get better. We've got a test scheduled at Bristol, so that's heading in the right direction. It's just little things.

"Jimmy (Makar) and I sat down a couple days ago and talked about what we could do to make our communication better. Some people might say, 'Well, how could it get better?' Well, we don't care how good it was. We only care about how we can make it better. That's just the way we are. We want to make sure that we don't lose anything. We want to gain everything that we can get. Even though everything was great, we want to get better."

(HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET OFF TO A GOOD START HERE?) "It's very important to run good here at Daytona because it helps you out. If you start out in the hole it is hard to get out of it. I say that, but in the Busch Series a long time ago - which may mean that it might not really matter - there were three of us that finished in the last three spots down here and we ended up finishing one-two-three in the points at the end of the year. So, is it that big a deal? Maybe not, but yes it is. I think momentum-wise you want to finish good. If you don't finish good here, there is no doubt that you can come back because you can. But, you just have to work that much harder."


(WHAT DID BOBBY LABONTE'S CHAMPIONSHIP DO FOR YOU?) "If anything, it took a load off my shoulders. Knowing that we have the same type of team that he has and that the same guys are working on the cars, it's made my life a lot easier. I have probably been more relaxed and more exited to start the year this year than I have been for the last five or six years. I'm hoping that's a good sign for us.

"Just knowing that they were able to do that last year gives me the same feeling - that it is a possibility, that we could do the same thing if we have the right season and if I'm a smarter race car driver this year."

(ON THE AERO PACKAGE HERE) "The only place that we've had the opportunity to really run it was at Talladega. I think it's definitely going to make it better for the fans. It's going to make the racing a lot closer and tighter. I don't think we'll really know until we get on the racetrack and get a chance to run it."

(ON THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT) "To me it's a great opportunity to practice, basically. We still want to try to win it, obviously. But the thing is you can take this opportunity in 70 laps and try things that you don't necessarily want to take the chance to try in the '500' and make a mistake. If you make some mistakes (in the Shootout) it costs you some money, but it doesn't cost you championship points. With our focus on trying to be more consistent for the championship this year, this is still a great opportunity for us to go out and learn without a big penalty if we make a mistake. Having 70 laps versus 25 laps, I'm really happy about the change. "I think the drivers feel like it's fun race to run, just from the standpoint that you're all just racing for a paycheck. You're not racing for points and it kind of takes us back to our roots to a certain degree. It's going to be fun. Like I said, it's going to be a good opportunity to try a lot of things. It's definitely a great way to kick off the season for everybody."

(WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM YOUR PAST COUPLE TRIPS HERE?) "I've learned that I don't know enough, yet. That's for sure. When they say that Dale Earnhardt 'see the air,' I'm convinced he does see the air. Right now I feel like I'm blind. It's just a matter of trying to learn what he has learned and try go pick up tips from what you hear from guys here and there to try to make yourself a little bit of superspeedways."

(YOU SEEM TO BE MORE RELAXED THAN YOU USED TO BE - HAVE YOU WORKED ON THAT?) "I think you just learn as you go. We had a hard start in '99. We got to running really well really quickly. We made a lot of mistakes along the way. Now, I'm starting to learn some lessons that are helping out and it's just making my life a lot easier."

(IS THE MORE "LOW-KEY TONY" A "LESS-PASSIONATE TONY?") "No, not at all. If anything, I'm just more relaxed finally. I'm not as uptight as I've been the last couple years. I think that is definitely going to help my performance on the track this year. This is the first time in about five or six years that I've been ready to come to Daytona and ready to race in January. The second day of January I was ready to come down here and start racing again. Normally this time of year I'm ready for about one more month of off-season, but there is just something different about this year. I think that is a good omen for us."

Text Provided By Al Larsen

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