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NASCAR Season Preview: Bobby Labonte

Photo credit: Parker Anderson (CC-BY-ND)

#47 Kingsford/Clorox/Bush’s Baked Beans Toyota, JTG Daugherty Racing

Born: May 8, 1964

Home: Corpus Christi, Texas

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Labonte started the season with an impressive fourth place finish in the Daytona 500, which saw him in the handful of cars that charged to the front of the pack at the race’s end. He is currently sitting on 652 consecutive starts, one behind Jeff Gordon for most of all active drivers.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: With one top five and two top 10s, Labonte could muster only a 29th place finish in Sprint Cup points, falling to that level after Infineon in June and never climbing back above it. That made him the second-worst driver in the series to start all 36 events on the schedule.

SEASON OUTLOOK: The 2000 series champion, Labonte hasn’t won a race since the end of the Winston Cup era in 2003 and hasn’t cracked the top 20 in points since 2007. At least he scored a top five and consistent ride in 2011, after spending the past two seasons bouncing around teams and failing to finish better than 16th in 2010. Nobody thought that JTG Daugherty Racing would necessarily resuscitate Labonte’s career, but nobody thought that he’d go as far downhill from Daytona as he did, either.

2012 will signify a season of change for Labonte, as proven winner Todd Berrier moves over from Kevin Harvick’s team to take over crew chief duties from new JTG shop foreman Frank Kerr. But this year should be a step forward for the team in other ways, too; JTG purchased a handful of former Michael Waltrip Racing cars to start the season and plans to run a second car in a limited schedule late in the year, with an eye on a full schedule in 2013. If the team finds the right young driver to bring up, Labonte’s mission may shift from keeping this team afloat to mentoring unproven talent, sooner rather than later.

– Chris Leone

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