Bobby Labonte, who won the then-Winston Cup championship a decade ago, is now 31st in the Sprint Cup standings.
Labonte left TRG Motorsports and finished 16th at Daytona in a Chevy entered by James Finch. The future is murky. What’s a nice guy like Labonte doing in a place like this? He’s a champion (both the Cup and what is now Nationwide). He’s even been a runner-up in both series.
Labonte has won 21 cup races and 26 poles. He’s 46 years old. "Our car was good for about 20 laps," he said after the Coke Zero 400. "We kept track position for a while, then we got a ‘wave-around’ (back on the lead lap). We got involved in ‘the big one’ (a 20-car pile-up), and that was unfortunate for the team. It took out a lot of good cars, but we were lucky enough to not have too bad a damage to keep us from running strong at the end. All in all, it was OK."
Labonte will once again be in the No. 09 Chevrolet in Saturday night’s LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. After 11 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, Labonte moved to Petty Enterprises for three years, finishing 21st, 18th and 21st in the cup point standings from 2006 through 2008. In 2009, he began the season with the Hall of Fame team then moved to Kevin Buckler’s TRG team late in the year.
Most would consider his 2000 victory in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Labonte’s biggest career victory. He has won six times at Atlanta Motor Speedway during his career, coupled with three victories each at Michigan and Pocono.
Labonte was the grand marshal of the Coke Zero 400 and carried Coke Zero sponsorship in the race, which marked the 600th start of his cup career. He is 20th all-time in that category, which is led by Richard Petty (1,185 races).
"Wow, that’s a lot of racing," said Labonte. "It’s just an honor and a privilege to be able to have that many races under my belt. There have been so many people who have helped me get to this point in my career. "I’m not racing just to hit milestones or anything like that. Like I’ve said before, I want to win and be competitive. Hitting 600 starts, it’s great, and hopefully, there will be a lot more, too."
Dutton has covered motorsports for the Gaston Gazette in North Carolina since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog, nascar.rbma.com, features his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Dutton at firstname.lastname@example.org.