2007 Ride: No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
2007 Primary Sponsor: NAPA Auto Parts
2007 Owner: Buffy Waltrip
2007 Crew Chief: Buddy Sisco
Stats: Three races, zero wins, zero top fives, zero top 10s.
Best Finish: 30th (Indianapolis and Watkins Glen)
High Point: The high point of Labonte’s 2007 season was simply being asked to come out of retirement to strap in for Michael Waltrip Racing. Waltrip himself was struggling to qualify for races, let alone accumulate Nextel Cup points with his new Toyota team; desperate for answers, he called upon the 50-year-old Labonte to jump behind the wheel of the No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota. Labonte wound up coming back for both road courses – two of his all-time favorite tracks – as well as the prestigious Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
Low Point: Hmm… how about the combination of all three races Labonte ran, combined? At the Toyota/Save Mart 350 – Labonte’s inaugural return from retirement – he finished a disappointing 35th. Then, in both the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and the Centurion Boats at the Glen (Watkins Glen) he finished 30th, never a factor in either event. In fact, his finish at the Brickyard was tarnished by engine troubles that left him 10 laps down by the time the checkers flew. No doubt, it was a bitter pill for Labonte to swallow, considering he put his retirement on hold to help the team earn points; instead, he never really gave the car a run to be proud of.
Summary: Labonte finished the season 58th in the point standings, having only accumulated 204 points in his short, three-race season. With an average finish of 31.6, he only collected $307,469 from race purses to give him his lowest earnings since 1991. Part of that is due to the limited number of races, but in 1987 – another three-race year for Labonte – he managed to earn $558,215. It’s a rough sign of how, 20 years later, the man is no longer driving the equipment he once was capable of competing for titles with in his prime.
2008 Outlook: At this time, it seems Labonte will be keeping his retired status for 2008; but with the past champion’s provisional he carries with him, you never know what team might be looking for an automatic entry into the field…
2006 Frontstretch Grade: A For Terry, F for Hendrick Motorsports (the team he was driving for)
2007 Grade: D
Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from AJ Allmendinger to JJ Yeley.