Are We Nearing The End Of The Line For Bobby Labonte?

by Jim on June 12, 2013 · 7 comments

LabonteIt hurts to even ask the question. First and foremost, I am a fan, and I’ve always been a big Bobby Labonte fan. How many people remember his heyday in the number 18 at Joe Gibbs Racing? For that period of time he was right there with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett. Like his brother Terry, he let his driving do a lot of the talking, but when he spoke, he had that cool, butterscotch smooth Texas drawl.

That was a while ago. It’s been too long. I think most of you won’t be surprised to learn that Bobby hasn’t won a race in almost ten years. He faded at Gibbs, went over to Petty Enterprises and endured what seemed like perpetual upheaval there, and once appeared to have a shot at moving to RCR; but he stayed, and then he’s been on an odyssey since that has included stops at the illustrious Hall of Fame Racing, TRG, JTG Daugherty, and once again, Labonte will click off some laps for Phoenix Racing.

Ugh. I shake my head. Sometimes I think maybe Labonte hung around too long a la Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip. The numbers may seem to suggest Labonte’s career really took a hit with the onset of the Car of Tomorrow.

What do you do? There’s always hoping the former champ enjoys another day in the sun, reminiscent of Mark Martin circa 2010. I mean, the guy didn’t forget how to drive. Did he? Labonte’s not even 50 yet! Was Martin that much of an anomaly? Perhaps so.

You can’t blame him for wanting to hang around. He was once a champion and was good enough to win 21 races; that’s not nothing. The money’s good, and it’s hard to walk away from something you love to do. How long do you want to go? Just one more. Every athlete knows the story of this tune, and few are the ones who walk away on top like a Ray Lewis or a John Elway. Too many end up like Michael Jordan, Johnny Unitas, Willie Mays or Brett Favre. That’s hard to watch.

Sure, he may lost some of his edge, but come on, he’s been languishing in mediocre equipment ever since he left Gibbs. I also like AJ Allmendinger, and hope everything turns out for him, but I really don’t know if he’s going to make one iota of difference in that 47 car. Marcos Ambrose was the only one who could.

It will bear watching to see what happens. The 51 team at Phoenix may even be more mediocre than the 47, so one can’t overshoot the runway in terms of expectations at Michigan. On the plus side, Labonte was a stud once at MIS, so we’ll see.

Unfortunately, “was” is the operative term. Times change. Its inevitable, but quite frankly, sometimes change stinks.

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1 NASCARJeff June 12, 2013 at 7:26 am

Guys like Bobby LeBonet need a reality check and it is really up to the teams and sponsors to give it to them. Richard Petty And DW hung around do long it hurt there reputation. Harry Gant, Cale and others saw the writing on the wall and left while on top.

Hanging around does nothing but drag the team down then the sponsor leaves because of the results or lack there of. Team owners should know better and it is about more then just a champions provisional.

Bobby and his brother Terry both need to step back and retire. The same can be said for Jeff Burton but all of them are talented drivers but like the article says’ The Edge is Gone.

2 The Mad Man June 12, 2013 at 7:52 am

Bobby’s a nice guy. He was a competitive driver. I think it’s time for him to hang up his helmet and seriously consider lobbying Faux Sports to be the much needed replacement for the worn out, outdated DW in the booth. Besides the shilling, blatant favoritism, and conflicts of interest, DW has no experience racing in neither the COT I nor its replacement the COT II purpose-built spec series race vehicle. Bobby has driven both of them in races covering the entire schedule and as such could provide much better insight into its’ performance and handling than DW. And maybe Bobby could talk Ray Evernham to join him in the booth as a replacement for the Bald Eagle since Ray has more recent experience as a crew chief plus the added benefit and insight of having been a team owner.

3 Jim June 12, 2013 at 7:53 am

@NASCARJeff- at the end of the day, you’re right. How many drivers have lost rides over sponsorships? Come to think, didn’t Bobby lose his HoF ride to Erik Darnell, because wanted a younger driver? It may all come down to Bobby getting his own ride and sponsor if he wants to race. Still- I can understand a struggle in trying to walk away. Thanks for chiming in.

4 Jim June 12, 2013 at 9:26 am

@Mad Man. I think you have a good idea. It’s not a stretch to imagine him shining in that role. He has never been much for controversy, so he wouldn’t drag all the baggage into the booth that DW, Rusty, and some of the others have. What you describe is what I like about Kyle Petty in the booth. He’s a commentator and not a cheerleader or shill.

5 Ryden June 12, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Bobby clearly hung around too long. I am a fan of his too and was one of those fans racing to buy his championship gear when he won it in 2000, but he just doesn’t have it any longer. Whether the sport or perhaps car itself passed him buy, perhaps both it’s hard to tell, but whatever it is, it is not going to get any better. He is a great guy of the sport and should make it into the hall of fame first ballot if the Jarrett model holds true. He has that extra Busch/Nationwide title that Jarrett doesn’t even if Jarrett had about 10 more wins then Labonte in Cup. He would make a great replacement for Waltrip who is clearly just annoying at this point. Whatever happens, he has ad a hell of a career.

6 Jim June 12, 2013 at 7:38 pm

@Ryden. In my humble opinion, a Cup title, a Busch title, 21 Cup wins and at least 4-5 seasons performing at a high level more than qualify then man for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He may not get in right away but should probably get a nod before it all said and done.

7 NASCARJeff June 13, 2013 at 7:37 am

I think both Jeff Burton and or Bobby Lebonte would be a good replacement for DW who is clearly out of touch, a shill for Toyota and deeply in love with Danica who can do no wrong in his eyes.

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