What ended Saturday Night at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Jimmie Johnson doing a semi victory lap with Car Owner Rick Hendrick standing and waving to a crowd of well wishers, started with something that made me proud to be a Nascar fan.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that if Dale Earnhardt Jr. had not driven his way into the All Star Race by finishing second in the Sprint Showdown earlier in the evening, he would have been voted in by the fans, and I probably wouldn’t be writing this particular blog today. But by him racing in, the vote fell to one of my all time favorite drivers, Bobby Labonte.
Most of the newer fans see him today, driving the JTG #47 Toyota, which is a small one car team owned by Tad Geschickter, and don’t know how he dominated the Cup series for almost a decade in the Joe Gibbs Interstate Pontiac currently driven by Kyle Busch. The 48 year old driver from Corpus Christi, Texas has 21 Sprint Cup wins and has started on the pole 27 times in a career that has seen 665 races. He has 115 top 5’s and 201 top 10’s and a remarkably low 95 DNF’s.
Bobby won a Cup title in 2000, finishing 265 points ahead of second place Dale Earnhardt. In 1996 Bobby won the season ending Napa 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway from the pole and, celebrated in victory lane with brother Terry who son the Winston Cup Championship. The Labonte brothers are the only brothers in Nascar history to have both won a championship.
During his decade of prominence, Bobby Labonte owned the Atlanta Motor Speedway. He had 6 wins in 37 starts on this track, three more than any other other track on the circuit. He had 12 top 5’s here and 13 top 10’s.
For reasons I’m not sure of, at the end of the 2005 season, Bobby asked to be let out of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing and promptly signed on to drive the famed #43 at Richard Petty Motorsports. His attempt to restore dignity to the struggling race team ended in 2008 with some decent starts, but a lot of hard luck finishes.
Bobby, was in my opinion, the masters of fast track racing. This was evident at places like Atlanta, Michigan, Pocono, Daytona and Talladega. He never got a victory at Daytona, but finished 2nd. in 1998 to Dale Earnhardt in his only 500 win. Bobby struggled in short track racing, with only one win coming at Martinsville in 2002. I think had he mastered the short tracks, he would have won a few more Cup titles.
Bobby Labonte is, and has always been a consumate champion in this sport and continues to be one of my favorite Drivers on the circuit today. Thanks again Nascar fans for voting him into Saturday Nights All Star Race, where he finished 19th. in most likely his last appearance in this event.
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