JTG/Daugherty Racing announced on Friday that AJ Allmendinger would pilot the team’s #47 Toyota next week at Michigan along with the Watkins Glen race on August 11th and possibly three other races. AJ Allmendinger’s gain is former Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte’s loss, as the 2000 champ will see his current starts streak end at 702 unless he finds a ride elsewhere for these five races.
Although the team has pulled Labonte, now 49, from these races, team co-owner and ESPN personality Brad Daugherty, reiterated that Labonte is still a part of the team and that the move was made get a feel for where the team currently is competitive wise. Labonte has had a forgettable year in his third season with the team, as he currently sits 28th in points with no top-fives or top-tens and 2 DNF’s. As if these numbers were not discouraging enough, Labonte has a grand total of 1 top-five in his eighty-five starts with JTG/Daugherty Racing: his first start back at the 2011 Daytona 500.
Once upon a time, Bobby Labonte was one of the best drivers in the Cup Series, winning 21 races, claiming 26 poles, and finishing in the top 10 in points seven times. However, Labonte’s split with Joe Gibbs Racing following 2005 season as seen the Corpus Christi native fall on some very hard times, as the past eight seasons have seen him drive at least one race for seven different teams—Petty Enterprises, Hall of Fame Racing, TRG Motorsports, Robby Gordon Motorsports, Phoenix Racing, Stavola-Labonte Racing, and JTG—with just 5 top fives and an average finish of 24th.
In short, Bobby Labonte should have saved himself the trouble and retired following his run with JGR, which is definitely not the easiest thing to do. NASCAR drivers are one of the sporting world’s worst at walking away (see: Mark Martin) because of the thrill of going around turns at over 200 miles per hour, which is fine as long as you are still producing (see: Mark Martin).
However, for every Mark Martin, there is a Bobby Labonte; a driver that was once revered by his competition now to only show up at each track, turn some laps at the back of the pack, and head to the next race. Bobby Labonte is definitely not alone is this situation; here are four other drivers that should follow my advice to Labonte and just call it a career.
Terry Labonte – I will probably be getting some hate mail from Bob Labonte, Bobby and Terry’s father, but the two-time Cup champion is just as guilty for logging laps as his younger brother. Terry Labonte seemed to have finished his career off as well as any driver ever has when his tenure with Hendrick Motorsports came to a close following the 2004 season, but he just couldn’t close the book on his time behind the wheel, instead opting to run part-time for some less-than-stellar teams. Fast-forward to 2013, and Terry is still racing in the Cup series, if you want to call what the 56 year old is doing “racing”. In three starts this year, Labonte has finishes of 26th, 25th, and 29th, which is not exactly terrible, but is definitely not worth sticking around for.
Dave Blaney – While Blaney never had much Cup series success during his runs with Bill Davis Racing, Jasper Motorsports, and even Richard Childress Racing in the #07 Jack Daniels car (prior to Clint Bowyer’s arrival on the circuit), he was at least driving in good equipment and actually had a “chance” to win now and again (Blaney’s most famous moment was probably finishing third behind Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch in the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400). Now Blaney just sort of “rides” in the back for Tommy Baldwin Racing, and although the 50 year old almost won the Daytona 500 last year due to a lengthy red flag delay that led some to believe the race would be called, there are so many other drivers that would be better off with his spot in the lineup; namely, his nineteen year old son Ryan, who currently drives in the Camping World Truck series and the Nationwide Series.
Joe Nemechek – It may be hard to believe for viewers who have only followed the sport for the last four or five years, but at one point Nemechek was actually competitive in NASCAR’s top series, grabbing 4 Cup wins and even earning a ride for Hendrick Motorsports, which lasted close to a year and a half. Following Nemechek’s run with Ginn Racing, “Front Row Joe” opted to instead mainly become a start-and-park driver, which basically means that he qualified the car just for the money his spot earned, ran 5-10 laps on race day, and then headed back to the garage. While this is mainly due to driving for teams (including his own, NEMCO Motorsports) that are working with tighter finances than the big teams, it now looks like it will be a cool day down below before Joe ever sees the front row again.
Mike Bliss – Although Bliss never really ran in high-quality equipment at the Cup level, the Milwaukie, Oregon native did have an impressive run at the Craftsman Truck and Busch levels, earning a total of fifteen wins, 182 top tens, and the 2002 Truck series championship. However, Bliss has almost never been competitive driving against the best NASCAR has to offer, as he has a total of seven top tens in over 150 races at the top level and currently sits dead-last in the standings due to Bliss’s decision to instead take his points in the Nationwide Series, where he is actually 12th in points. This success in the Nationwide Series is great for the 48 year old; so great that he should just drive in that series from now on.
In closing, I would just like to say that this was not an easy article for me to write; after all, I have always been a Bobby Labonte admirer, mainly due to the fact that my mother is probably the biggest Labonte fan to ever roam the earth. However, there comes a point when every driver should see that they just cannot continue driving in the Cup Series: Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin, and many others all reached that point and then called it quits. As uncomfortable a point as it is for these guys, they just have to bite the bullet and finally leave the racetrack once and for all.
Did I miss a driver that you think should have been included or think that one of these drivers was unjustifiably included? Leave a comment and let your opinion be heard