It’s hard to imagine that we would be at this point with the career of former series champion Bobby Labonte. Labonte has been one of the good guys in the NASCAR garage, but his time in the Sprint Cup Series garage might be coming to a close.
He has been replaced for two races already and Atlanta marks a third in the #47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota by AJ Allmendinger. For the first race, at Michigan, he was able to jump into James Finch’s Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. At Watkins Glen, he wasn’t as lucky. This weekend at the Atlanta Motor Speedway he will back in Finch’s Chevrolet.
Labonte used pit strategy last weekend at Bristol to get into the top-5 and show he still had it. That moment we short lived, as after leader Clint Bowyer spun, Labonte himself was spun into a parked Bowyer. While Bowyer continued, Labonte had to go to the garage for repairs, which relegated him to a 38th place finish.
That’s been the story of the last few years of Labonte’s career, once something begins to go well it comes crashing down. Now headed into the Atlanta Motor Speedway, arguably his best track, he is looking for a great finish to impress car owners in need of a driver for 2014.
In 38 starts at Atlanta, Labonte has six wins, 12 top-5s, 13 top-10s, and 959 laps led. His six wins are most among active drivers, but he hasn’t been to victory lane since 2003. That’s about the point where things have taken a turn at the track for Labonte.
In his 22 races prior to the 2004 season, he had those six wins along with the top-5s and top-10s. He posted an average finish of 12.5. In the 16 races after that point, no wins, no top-5s, no top-10s, and his average finish drops to 26.5.
There is hope for Labonte in that one year ago Kurt Busch put the #51 Chevrolet in the 13th position last season. Prior to that in 2011 Landon Cassill had a 22nd place effort. Placing between those two finishes would be like a seventh win for Labonte.
The action gets underway for the AdvoCare 500 Sunday night at 7:30. All the action from the Atlanta Motor Speedway can be seen on ESPN.