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From The Pit Box: Talladega with Slugger Labbe

Richard “Slugger” Labbe enters his fourth year with the No. 27 Menards team at Richard Childress Racing. The Saco, Maine native is no stranger to success at NASCAR’s superspeedways having amassed one win at Talladega Superspeedway (2003), two wins at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway (2002, 2003) and one win at the famous two-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2011).

We sat down with Slugger to see what it takes to be successful at Talladega Superspeedway.

How do you setup the No. 27 Menards Chevrolet SS for Talladega?
“Talladega is unique. I think it’s more about aerodynamics and track position than the setup. You want to build a car that’s very low on drag and of course you want to have a great engine which we do with ECR. When it comes to Talladega it’s more about setting yourself up for the end of the race. Typically a lot of teams like to ride around in the back and that’s not our style. We work hard on our superspeedway program and we go there to race and give it 100 percent effort when they throw the green-flag. Another big factor is time spent on pit road. If you’re running towards the front then you want to spend the least amount of time on pit road to keep your track position. There are several different plays we have for the pit crew during Daytona and Talladega. If you’re riding around in the back then time spent on pit road doesn’t really matter. We have a good plan of how to approach Talladega and a lot of it doesn’t come down to how the car is setup, it comes down to track position and time spent on pit road.”

How will you approach qualifying at the 2.6-mile track with the new knockout format?
“I think you’re going to see us not do very well during qualifying and I say that because we’re probably not going to go mix it up in the draft. There are three sessions, and to be honest with you, we don’t want to wreck. We work really hard on these cars and aren’t willing to risk that for a better spot on pit road. At least today, all of this may change on Saturday when Paul puts on his helmet, but as of now that’s the plan. We have 188 laps to wreck it. We don’t need to wreck in qualifying.”

What do you think the biggest challenge is at Talladega?
“To me the biggest challenge is, and I probably shouldn’t say this, but staying focused on the pit box. Green-flag runs at Talladega are 40 laps or right in that range and it just takes forever lap after lap. There are times when the drivers come by and you’re running third then the next lap you’ll have fallen back to 25th because he had to get out of the gas and lost momentum. So that makes it hard to stay focused sometimes because it’s a very monotonous thing. They say the driver’s get bored out there sometimes and lose focus which I can understand because you sit there for 45 laps and that’s about 40 minutes. So I would definitely say keeping everyone focused and on-task is the challenge at Talladega.”

What’s your favorite racing moment?
“I’ve had a lot. I’ve been in this sport for about 28 years so I’ve had a lot of highs and lows. Today’s Michael Waltrip’s birthday and I’ve won three races with him, all of which were superspeedway races. I always say the last win is special but to me winning the Brickyard with the Menard family is something they will never take away. They had been trying for so many years in the IndyCar Series to win there and came really close and failed so that makes it special. We were half a lap away from running out of gas and were able to stretch it to win the race. So to pull that off and get Paul his first Sprint Cup Series win and see the emotion between him and his dad was priceless. If I retire today that would be my favorite victory.”

Do you have a favorite spot to eat at on the road?
“I usually just end up eating in my motorcoach on the road. I will go out to eat with the guys a lot but most of the time I will be in my motorhome working.  The job of a crew chief is just beginning when the garage closes everyday at the track. We have a lot of preparation working with engineers late at night. There are days when we are up until 1:00 a.m. or 2:00 a.m. in the morning when everyone else is sleeping. My approach to that is if you’re not working then someone else is and they’ll beat you.”

Make sure you follow Slugger on Twitter at @SluggerLabbe and the team at @RCR27PMenard.

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