Despite receiving a 75-point penalty from NASCAR on Tuesday (Aug. 4) for violating its testing policy at the Daytona International Speedway road course by running in a Sports Car Club of America race last week, Alex Labbe is in the midst of a career year for DGM Racing, owned by Mario Gosselin.
While some drivers despise road courses and superspeedways, Labbe thoroughly enjoys them, as it gives his underfunded team a real shot to be competitive throughout the duration of the race.
Labbe is in the midst of his second full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series season for DGM. Throughout his five-year stint of running at least one Xfinity race, much of his success has come at road courses, where he’s earned three of his five career top-10 finishes. The most recent came last month at the inaugural road course race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He’s also scored a pair of top-10 finishes on superspeedways, both coming earlier this season at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
Growing up, Labbe began karting at 6 years old. For the majority of his childhood, he spent time turning left and right, learning how to race. But this season, he’s earned top-10 finishes in all three of NASCAR’s specialty races, which is even a challenge for a small race team, fielding just three full-time employees.
“It’s very tough, for sure,” Labbe recently told Frontstretch prior to receiving his penalty. “We’ve got to take everything we can take. We’ve got older motors, older tires, a little weaker brakes, so even if it’s on a road course or a superspeedway, we’ve got to be there at the end, always try to be smart and capitalize.
“We’ve had some solid days there and it’s worked out really good for us. […] I feel like whenever we can fire on all eight cylinders and get a solid day we’re going to be a real threat for the top five on those special tracks.”
Through 17 races this season, Labbe has earned an average finish of 19.9, nearly one position better than his other full-time season (2018). Meanwhile, he’s scored more top 10s in the opening half of the season than his first 46 Xfinity races combined.
Even with the increased statistics, Labbe is not content with where he’s at, splitting time between the Nos. 36 and 90. In fact, one could say he’s disappointed.
“It’s been a little rough,” Labbe admitted. “I feel like we haven’t been firing off like [we did at] Daytona. We’ve had some pretty good runs on the road course and the superspeedways, and that really kept us up there. But we’ve had some bad luck.
“Whenever we get running like we should, we’re going to be a real threat. We might need to go win a road course, and we’ll try our best for sure.”
This month, the Xfinity Series heads to Road America followed by the unpredictable Daytona road course, only to visit central Florida again two weeks later to race the 2.5-mile oval. These are all opportunities for an upset winner; just ask Jeremy Clements, who shocked the world at Road America in 2017. Should DGM score a victory in the coming month, it would most definitely be a surprise.
With these three races – two on road courses, one on a superspeedway – on the horizon, Labbe has an extra pep in his step heading to Wisconsin this weekend.
“We feel really good [because] that’s where we’ve been good all year,” Labbe stated. “If we can fire on all eight cylinders and get a solid, smooth day, we’re going to be up there.”
That said, Labbe has admitted he puts the weight of the world on his shoulders heading into road course races. He’s expected to run well, as the driver scored a career-best sixth-place finish last season on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
Labbe, who resides in his home country of Canada, has been putting more of an effort into helping DGM prepare for this stretch run, spending a few weeks in the central Florida race shop. Just last week, he flew to Florida to help the team with its road course equipment.
“We are working hard to give [Labbe] the best equipment so [he] can showcase his abilities behind the wheel,” Gosselin said via text. “Alex’s talent on road courses is undeniable.”
After arriving in Florida last week, Labbe spent time on the Daytona road course. When NASCAR was made aware of the situation, the driver was pulled from the track for testing a car that the sanctioning body found equivalent to an Xfinity car.
Come Tuesday, NASCAR dropped the hammer on DGM Racing because Labbe and Gosselin violated the active testing policy. Labbe was penalized 75 driver points and Gosselin’s No. 36 car was docked 75 owner’s points, dropping it 10 positions to 34th in the standings. The team was also fined $50,000.
Prior to the penalty, Labbe was ranked 16th in the championship standings, 73 points outside the cutline. By losing 75 points, he’s now 21st in points, 148 points out – one point behind Joe Graf Jr. from re-entering into the top 20. He’ll need a victory over the next nine races and enough points to be inside the top 20 to qualify for the postseason.
DGM is appealing the penalty.
Regardless of the penalty, Labbe is having a respectable return season to Xfinity, coming after a 2019 season that only saw him compete 10 times. That was a tough pill to swallow, even if it made sense from a financial standpoint to focus on NASCAR Pinty’s Series competition.
“It was the right move,” Labbe added. “I talked to Mario, and whenever we go racing – the 10 races we did last year – we want to compete and try to run in the top 15 or get the best result possible. I don’t think it’s good for anyone for me to just go there and drive.
“That’s what we’re doing this year, too. It was a setback, and we didn’t have anything follow up sponsorship-wise, so I feel like whenever we go there we’ve got to go race and compete. I don’t feel like that’s what I want to do; just go there. I don’t think that’s what DGM wants to do. We want to get better as a team, keep evolving and go there with all the resources we can and try to improve week in and week out.”
Even when he wasn’t competing last season, Labbe kept close tabs on how the DGM program was running. He says he’s talked to Gosselin multiple times per week for the past “10 years.”
From the fiscal side, Labbe has seen an increase in sponsorship this season. Originally, he was only scheduled to race in the season opener at Daytona. But after working on nailing down local sponsors in Canada, he’s in the process of putting a full season together.
With the increase in funding, he’s seen a steady improvement for the small race team over the past few seasons.
“The team had to buy a lot of stuff, and there was a lot of stuff going on, but I think in the past two years the cars have gotten a lot better,” Labbe said. “We’ve closed the gap. Our reference for the past couple of years was Jeremy Clements, and I think we’ve closed the gap a lot and been able to keep up a little better.
“I think we’re right there, just ahead of all the underdog teams. That’s why we’ve got to try to keep improving. We’ve got to keep our heads down and continue working, and DGM has been doing that for the past two years.”
For the second half of the season, Labbe has some lofty goals. Ideally, it would include a personal best finish, though he really wants to continue to better himself on traditional ovals, where the No. 36 team’s intermediate car has struggled at during points of the year.
Of his primary goal, Labbe said, “It’s getting my best finish possible. I’ve had a sixth-place finish last year at the ROVAL. I definitely want a top five. I want to get my first top five, and if we can go win a race, that would be really awesome. Realistically, I think we want to go get a top five for the remainder of the year.”
As the series heads to Road America this weekend, Labbe has just one start at the 14-turn road course, finishing 16th in 2018.
- As noted above, the Xfinity Series heads to Road America for this weekend’s Henry 180. There are 37 drivers on the entry list, including Jesse Iwuji, who is scheduled to make his series debut for MBM Motorsports. RC Enerson, most recently having contested in IndyCar, will pilot the No. 07 Chevrolet for SS Green Light Racing in his NASCAR debut.
- Last week, NASCAR announced the Xfinity race on the Daytona road course will be 52 laps in distance and an extra chicane will be added off oval Turn 4.