Bobby “I’m Going To Miss The Iceman” Labonte
2006 Ride: No. 43 Cheerios Dodge
2006 Owner: Petty Enterprises
2006 Crew Chief: Todd Parrott (Feb.-Aug.); Greg Steadman (Aug.-Sept.); Paul Andrews (Sept.-Nov., returns in 2007)
Stats: 36 starts, zero wins, three top fives, eight top 10s, 21st in points.
High Point: Oddly enough, Labonte’s high point and his low point might have come all at the same time. At Atlanta March 20, Labonte ran out front – far out front – for several laps and looked to have the car to beat until an engine failure put him out early. Still, just being there for that long was a quantum leap forward for the entire Petty organization, which has been in the doldrums since their last win back in 1999. Labonte took that momentum and rebounded for a fifth-place finish the next week at Bristol; he also had his best finish of third Oct. 22 in the Subway 500 in Martinsville, a run that showcased an improving short track program for the No. 43.
Low Point: If it wasn’t the engine failure at Atlanta, Labonte’s “rock bottom” moment could have been the season finale at Homestead, where he got caught up in an early accident that dropped him out of the top 20 in points. Labonte also had a drought that started at the Brickyard Aug. 6 and ended Sept. 17 at New Hampshire when he recorded finishes of 40th, 24th, 19th, 23rd, 26th, 22nd and 40th. Ironically, the loss of crew chief Todd Parrott occurred during the middle of that slump, a surprising move that also caused Labonte to take a brief step back before moving forward.
Summary: It was a mixed bag for Labonte in his first season at Petty. He powered his way to eight top 10s, but also suffered eight DNFs – overall, though, there is reason to be hopeful. Labonte bettered his results from his last year at Joe Gibbs Racing despite not having equipment on par with what he used to have; it’s clear the move to Petty seemed to rekindle some of his competitive fire.
2007 Outlook: There is much to be excited about around the shop in Randleman, especially in the races after Labonte switched from Greg Steadman to Paul Andrews as his crew chief. After a strong late-season surge, it’s no longer unreasonable to expect this team to win or finish in the top 15 in points in 2007.