NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2012 NASCAR Driver Review: Bobby Labonte


Bobby Labonte

*2012 Ride:* No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota Camry
*2012 Primary Sponsors:* Kroger / Kingsford / Bush’s Beans / Clorox / Scott Products
*2012 Owners:* Tad Geschickter / Brad Daugherty
*2012 Crew Chiefs:* Todd Berrier (Feb. – July); David Hyder (July – Sept.); Brian Burns (Sept. – Nov.)

*Stats:* 36 starts, 0 wins, 0 top 5s, 2 top 10s, 2 DNFs, 23rd in points.

*Best Finish:* 9th, Martinsville – Fall.
*Average Finish:* 22.6.

*2012 Team Ranking:* *1st* of 1. Labonte’s JTG-Daugherty Racing team is a one-car organization, so there’s no “teammate” to base things off of although they’re looking to add one for 2013. Based off owner points, the No. 47 Camry was the sixth-highest finishing Toyota and the best of the single-car programs.

*High Point:* Let’s see… the end of the season? In all seriousness, there wasn’t much for Labonte to smile about in 2012, as has been the case for the last several years for a former Cup champ who’s now almost a decade removed from Victory Lane. If pressured, I’ll say a ninth place at Martinsville, in the Fall hit a high note — that was one of the lone bright spots for the No. 47 team, a season-best result and just one of two top 10s all year. One other thing his fans can smile about is Labonte finished 34 of 36 races, a sign of how consistent JTG-Daugherty’s equipment has become. That’s a notable feat for this veteran only two years after being forced into start and park rides just to survive.

*Low Point:* There were so many bad results, it’s almost impossible to pick just one event that tops the others. It was race number three in Las Vegas, though that really revealed Labonte and the JTG-Daugherty team to be pretenders as opposed to contenders. Coming off a 14th in the season-opening Daytona 500 and a 16th at race two in Phoenix, Labonte went into Las Vegas 11th in points. Even if it was two races into the season, he occupied one of the Chase spots for a week; more importantly, it led some to believe he may have had a shot at the postseason if he continued to build upon that early consistency. After all, this team finished 18th in points with Marcos Ambrose behind the wheel just a few years ago. Instead, Labonte finished 26th at Vegas, which became the norm for where he would place in the many months to follow. It wasn’t until June at Michigan when the organization matched its early-season form, running 16th when it was too little, too late to even be a blip on the radar screen for the Chase.

*Summary:* The best way to describe the Corpus Christi native’s season is with three numbers – 3…2…1. That isn’t a countdown for liftoff, either. Labonte had three different crew chiefs in 2012, more than the two top-10 finishes he accumulated, and triple the _one_ lap he led all year. For a man who was one of the best drivers in the late ’90s, taking the championship 12 years ago, that’s a sign he either needs to hang it up or hope he can get one last run with a top team in 2014.

Todd Berrier was brought on board this past offseason as crew chief, after ten years of working at Richard Childress Racing and the hope was that Labonte could regain some of that magic he had over a decade ago. No dice. Instead, Berrier left after 19 races to join Furniture Row Racing, frustrated by a lack of progress as the team struggled to run out of their own race shop, a change from the Michael Waltrip Racing partnership of previous years. Berrier was replaced by David Hyder until, in a case of déjà vu, Brian Burns finished the season out as his crew chief (Burns called the shots for the final four races of 2011 and the last 16 of this year).

*Off-Track News:* A racing helmet worn by Labonte in 2005 was recently auctioned off on eBay and sold to the highest bidder for $2,651. All of the proceeds went to the Bobby Labonte Foundation. The non-profit organization was founded by the driver in 2003 and assists local charities in North Carolina to provide support for families who are in need of food, clothes, or shelter.

*2013 Outlook:* After some rumors earlier in the year that he may be replaced by David Reutimann, the 2000 Sprint Cup champ will return for another season of competition with the No. 47. It was also recently announced that Brian Burns would continue to be atop the pit box for next year. The hope here is that keeping this duo together will bring improved results, but it’s hard to see it happening. Then again, they can’t do much worse…

*2011 Sprint Cup Grade:* D.
*2012 Grade:* D-. It’s hard not to give Labonte a failing grade, but compared to the last couple of seasons, he actually improved from a consistency standpoint. It’s also interesting to note that his 23rd-place finish in the final point standings was a better result than his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2005, when he ended the year 24th overall. Still, he was so invisible on-track it was easy to forget Labonte was even in the Sprint Cup Series in 2012.

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