Slugger Labbe and his driver Paul Menard were sitting 11th in points after Sonoma, looking to make a push to the Chase. Damage in the big wreck at Kentucky, a blown engine and Labbe’s first ever 43rd-place finish at Daytona – plus a mediocre run at Loudon – now has the No. 27 team teetering on falling out of the top 20 in points. A week off couldn’t have come at a much better time for Labbe and his RCR race team. They are looking to recharge their batteries and head down the stretch with a full head of steam to try and make it back into Chase contention.
Labbe took some time before leaving for vacation, during this off week, to talk about the new car after half a season, how to approach the next 17 races and plans for the off week.
Mike Neff: While a lot of attention was focused on what happened between Paul and Jeff on the track, what did you think about your weekend at Loudon?
Slugger Labbe: It went OK, to be honest. We unloaded fast and qualified decent. Saturday was a decent day for us but the biggest thing was trying to predict what the track would do from Saturday to Sunday. The track temp was up about 20 degrees, the clouds were gone, the sunshine was out a lot more on Sunday vs. Saturday so it was a big adjustment. We wore out the computers doing simulations trying to figure out a balance for Sunday. Basically we just ended up too loose off most of the day. Typical Loudon, we couldn’t get the drive straight off of the corner and that is what we battled all day.
Neff: We’re one race past halfway in the season. How do you feel the first half of a season with the new car has played out? Is it as you had anticipated?
Labbe: The good thing was that NASCAR gave us a lot of time to test with the new car, prior to the season starting. There were tests at Charlotte and tire tests that teams were invited to so, when the season started, we had a good indication of what the car needed. Like anything else would have been, with the Gen-5 or Gen-6, technology changes every day and the more we work on these cars the better they’re going to get. Definitely with the Gen-6 car there is more passing. I think they’re easier to work on than what we had last year. When you have more aerodynamics in a race car it makes them easier to adjust, so having the benefits of the Gen-6 with more aero and the rear camber and a few other things, it isn’t as hard as the Gen-5 car. It is never easy by any means though.
Neff: After a dozen and a half races with working with the rear camber in the new car are you getting a feel for what that does to the car and is it a fair trade for having to give up skewing the cars?
Labbe: Camber was a good replacement for the skew that NASCAR took away. As time goes on and races go on, people become more comfortable with the drive plates and axles. We’re starting to get more toward the maximum number of the tolerances. At the first of the year people weren’t taking all that they could with the camber because they just weren’t sure if the axles and drive plates could survive. A lot of money has been invested in axles and drive plates with every organization in the garage. Just now we’re getting comfortable with the parts and pieces that we have available and what lubes we can run on the drive plates and axles. A lot of work has gone into it and I think almost everyone has got that thing almost bullet proof at this point in time.
Neff: The bigger teams have a large number of racecars at their disposal. Are you still using the same cars that you used at the beginning of the year or, thanks to all of the advances that have been made, are the cars from February and March already obsolete?
Labbe: On our downforce fleet, from where we started in February, I think I only have one of those cars left. We have rotated a lot of cars through the system. The people at RCR and RCR engineering keep getting better and better and we just keep building better products so we have phased them out. We’re halfway through the season and, with two or three races on them it is time to do something different. Cars get better and we keep working on them, not to mention the more races they get on them, the heavier they get. That is one thing we don’t like to see is cars getting heavier so we try and improve that every week.
Neff: With 17 races to go, seven races and then the chase, you’re at the back end of the top 20. When you look at the upcoming events, do you do an all out blitz to try and make the Chase or do you lay it out as 17 individual events and we’ll run our best at each one in Chase contention or not.
Labbe: The next seven races are very important because everyone wants to make the chase. If we don’t make the Chase we want to look at the extra 10 and make sure you have a good season. We’re breaking out a lot of new cars in the next 7 weeks for this chase. Dusty is the first one that we’ll bring out at Indianapolis. We’re looking at a lot of different things. We fell back in the points after a wreck at Kentucky and then we were the first car out at Daytona with a blown engine. In my career I have never finished 43rd at a race. Getting one point for that race was a huge hit but it is something we can overcome and we have seven weeks to do it. It is part of it. You wreck, you blow up, there are certain things out of your control that you just have to react to and make the best of it.
Neff: It was surprising, and they mentioned it on the race broadcast, that yours was the first engine failure at the July race at Daytona since 2009. Does that make you feel special or what?
Labbe: I think it sucks to be honest with you. What happened was a fluke thing that never should have happened, but it did. You can’t control some things. All you can do is react. We’ve got work to do to get where we need to be in seven weeks. We’ve got work to do to be where we want to be, but we’ll keep our head down and keep digging. Everyone has some time off this week to try and recharge their batteries and get refreshed. We’re going to hit it harder the next few weeks to get to where we need to be when they throw the checkered flag at Richmond.
Neff: Testing-wise, NASCAR eased the restraints on testing this season. Have you used all, most or some of your tests so far this year?
Labbe: We’ve used two of our tests so far at Kentucky and Pocono. We’ve got more tests coming up. We have a tire test at Atlanta in about three weeks and a test at Watkins Glen. There is just a lot of things going on and a lot of information to deal with. People don’t understand, when you go test, you have to be prepared to test . Then you have to have a good plan when you get there and execute it. Then you come back and it is days and weeks of analyzing the information and data you acquire at a test. It isn’t just a two day test, it is often a two week test to analyze all of the data.
Neff: With the week off, and needing to get yourself recharged, is RCR shut down for the week to give everyone a chance to recharge or are some people working?
Labbe: All of the road crew are off this week. When the plane landed in Concord, the vacation clock started. It is cool that the road crew gets recharged and rejuvenated. The shop crew is still going. It is too big of a week for them. They are still busy building cars and getting parts ready to go through the system. We still have a very dedicated group of guys They’ll recharge this week before 17 straight weeks of racing. Shop guys will handle the normal duties they do.
Neff: What are you and Paul going to do for your week off?
Labbe: I’m off to Mexico. Paul is gone for two weeks. He shows back up in Indy on Wednesday before the race. He’s out of the country for two weeks. Good for him to get some things done that he needs to get done during the off week.
Neff: Are you going to Rossburg Ohio on Wednesday night before you head over to Indy?
Labbe: We’re hoping there are seats available on the team plane. If there are seats available we’ll jump on the plane. Right now there is a waiting list. If there aren’t any seats available we’ll watch it on SPEED like everyone else.
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