NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Bobby Labonte

Bobby Labonte

2010 Rides: No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet (19 races), No. 09 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet (14 races), No. 10 Stavola Labonte Chevrolet (2 races), No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports Toyota (1 race)
2010 Primary Sponsors: TaxSlayer.com (No. 71), C&J Energy (No. 09), Gander Mountain (No. 10), SPEEDfactory.tv (No. 7)
2010 Owners: Kevin Buckler (No. 71), James Finch (No. 09), Bill Stavola & Terry Labonte (No. 10), Robby Gordon (No. 7)
2010 Crew Chiefs: Doug Randolph (No. 71 – Feb. June), Paul Clapprood, Dan Stillman (No. 71 – June), Nick Harrison (No. 09), Doug Randolph (No. 10), Gene Nead (No. 7)
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0-top 10s, 11 DNFs, 0 poles, 31st in points

High Point: A chain of events that started with the announcement of Kasey Kahne leaving Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of 2010 left Labonte as perhaps the biggest benefactor. It was in August that JTG-Daugherty Racing, whose driver Marcos Ambrose announced earlier he would be leaving to fill the vacated Kahne ride at RPM, had inked the Texan to a contract for 2011 and beyond. The signing was a coup for the driver, who will be driving for arguably his strongest team since leaving Joe Gibbs Racing five years ago.

From a racing standpoint, there were few reasons to be excited. But given the teams he drove for, a 16th-place finish at the Coke Zero 400 in July – a race Labonte was also the Grand Marshal for – was certainly a nice change of pace from the rest of the season.

Low Point: Labonte’s career has been on a downward slope for several years now, but it hit rock bottom at the spring race at Dover. Just 65 laps into the event, he and the No. 71 team called it a day, citing “electrical” issues. As it turns out, this marked the first of several start-and-park efforts for the 2000 Cup champ, a necessary evil as he chose to keep his consecutive starts streak (now at 616) alive rather than sit on the sidelines. It is one thing to see young drivers trying to get a paycheck or a NASCAR veteran with limited success run pointless laps, but seeing one of NASCAR’s best try it was downright depressing.

Summary: Since leaving JGR, Labonte has been relegated to a couple of mediocre rides, including the No. 43 at what was then known as Petty Enterprises from 2006-2008 and the No. 96 at Yates Racing in 2009. Well, mediocre turned into uncompetitive this year, the 46-year-old driving for teams that had no intention of even finishing the event. Initially leaving single-car TRG Motorsports in June in hopes of joining a better-funded effort, none materialized as he finished the season with a patchwork of temp jobs that led to dead ends.

With a shortage of strong rides available and surplus of good drivers, the best team he was able to find was Phoenix Racing. Unfortunately, it turned out to be worse there, as he actually start-and-parked more often with James Finch’s program than the No. 71.

2011 Outlook: In one word, positive. Hey, it can’t possibly be any worse than this year, though that is not saying much. Labonte will be joining a team that is associated with Michael Waltrip Racing, an organization in JTG that was contending for the Chase in ’09 before an off year in ’10. In addition, he will have “teammates” in David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr. sharing information in a way Labonte hasn’t seen in years. That should help tremendously, combined with the motivation of salvaging a career that seemed destined for the scrap heap after the past couple of seasons.

Labonte’s new team, JTG Daugherty, has shown in their brief history that they are capable of fielding a top-five car – just not consistently. With the veteran taking over driving duties from Supercar ace Ambrose, the driver may be the key ingredient this team needs to have the consistency to make the Chase.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: B-
2007 Grade: C
2008 Grade: C-
2009 Grade: B-
2010 Grade: F

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