Race Weekend Central

2009 NASCAR Driver Review: Bobby Labonte

Bobby Labonte

2009 Rides: Hall of Fame/Yates Racing No. 96 Ford, TRG Motorsports No. 71 Chevrolet
2009 Primary Sponsors: Ask.com (No. 96), Taxslayer.com (No. 71)
2009 Owners: Jeff Moorad (No. 96), Kevin Buckler (No. 71)
2009 Crew Chiefs: Todd Parrott (No. 96, Feb. – Apr.), Ben Leslie (No. 96, Apr. – Oct.), “Slugger” Labbe (No. 71)
2009 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 1 top five, 2 top 10s, 30th in points

High Point: Gotta be his fifth-place run at Vegas. It was Bobby Labonte’s first top-five finish since the Food City 500 back in Oct. 2006 and moved him up into 10th in the points standings just three races into 2009.

Low Point: Anytime you lose your ride, it’s definitely a low point. And it was announced that after the Bristol race back in August that Labonte would be taken out of his Hall of Fame No. 96 car for seven of the last 12 races, replaced with a young driver that brought sponsorship dollars with him Labonte didn’t have.

Summary: A year that started with such promise back in February ended with many questions in November. Labonte and his No. 96 Ask.com Ford started the year so strongly that many were talking Chase berth. After six races the team had a top five, only one finish worse than 22nd and sat 19th in the standings. Even in their one bad race, Bobby had driven from 40th to 25th only to have the engine let go.

But shortly after their hot start, wrecks at Texas and Talladega dropped the team to 30th, and they never seemed to recover after that. The team did manage to string together five straight finishes better than 23rd from late June through early July, but again, they had DNFs in two of the next three races and it was back to 30th in the standings for the team. Finally, after not getting the results all sides wanted, Labonte was removed from his driving duties for seven of the final 12 races.

Bobby was, however, able to land on his feet… sort of. TRG Motorsports put him in the No. 71 car for the seven races he was available and in their first pairing at Atlanta, Labonte drove the car, which sat 37th in the owner standings, to an 18th-place finish. In his second race, he started eighth and finished 22nd; two races later, he drove the car to the team’s first top-10 finish at Talladega. Labonte, happy with the team and their progress – not to mention a lack of quality rides in Silly Season – then re-signed with them to drive full-time in 2010.

Labonte may not be the driver he once was, but is still one of the better drivers in NASCAR and a real class act to go along with it. He has done more with less over the last several seasons and never once complained about his circumstances. In 2009, he posted 11 top-20 starts and 18 top-20 finishes. That’s four more top-20 finishes than Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had more money and better equipment behind him than the militaries of most world countries have.

He also had a handful of other runs that looked like surefire top 20s, only to get caught up in someone else’s wreck of suffer a mechanical failure. Not bad driving for the two teams he drove for.

Off-Track News: Labonte continues to work with his own charity, The Bobby Labonte Foundation. The Bobby Labonte Foundation is a non-profit organization formed in 2003, dedicated to providing aid for a variety of charities throughout North Carolina. In addition, Bobby has a great love for children and focuses on philanthropies that cater to children with special needs.

Labonte also formed the North Carolina Quarter Midget Association in 2004. The NCQMA was created to give sons and daughters a clean, safe and healthy sport enjoyable for the entire family. The NCQMA Speedway is located in Salisbury, N.C. and children between the ages of 5-16 years old can participate.

2010 Outlook: Since leaving Joe Gibbs Racing, Labonte has gone to Petty Enterprises and HoF Racing and gotten better results with less money and shall we say less than top equipment than 75% of the other drivers out there could do. So the move to TRG for Bobby is nothing he hasn’t tried before.

However, the team just released their crew chief and has a primary sponsor for just 12 races in 2010. This means the team is running on a budget that’s tighter than Bruton Smith’s Speedos and has to somehow convince a crew chief this is a job they want with Speedweeks at Daytona less than two months away. But again, this is nothing Bobby Labonte can’t handle.

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

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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