I have been a Bobby Labonte fan for nearly 20 years. In 1991, when I started watching NASCAR, Bobby was my pick in the Busch Series. The reason is a little dumb, looking back now, but Bobby’s birthday is May 8, same as mine.
Come on, I was only ten.
I saw Bobby win a Busch race at Martinsville in 1992. That was a cool day for me.
I was the most excited person in the world when Bobby was announced as one of Joe Gibbs' driver for the 1995 season. A little known fact is that Bobby verbally committed to driving for Bud Moore for 1995.
When Dale Jarrett bolted for Yates, Joe Gibbs made it happen. The next four years would transform Bobby’s career as a driver and Joe Gibbs' career as an owner.
In 1995, Bobby won three races, one more than Jarrett's total in three seasons driving the Interstate Chevrolet. The Gibbs Chevrolet/Pontiac team was a top 10 car from '95-'98, winning here and there but never really considered a contender.
Then everything changed in 1999.
The Interstate Batteries Pontiac team, led by Jimmy Maker, came of age in 1999, with five wins and a runner-up finish in points. In fact, had the chase format been in place in 1999 Bobby would have held the big trophy following his season ending win at Atlanta.
Four wins, including the Brickyard 400 and Southern 500, followed in 2000, along with a Winston Cup title. I believe Bobby downfall with Joe Gibbs racing also happened in 2000.
Sophomore driver Tony Stewart, Bobby’s teammate at JGR, lead the series in wins. It was almost as if Bobby became Gibbs number two driver, despite winning the title.
Some will disagree, but it’s hard for me to see otherwise. Although Bobby won races from 2001-2003, he never really contended for titles or wins. In fact, two of his last four wins developed out of pure luck.
When Jerry Nadeau ran out of gas in the 2001 fall race at Atlanta, Bobby was there to pounce. Same with Bobby’s last win, way back in the 2003 series finale at Miami. Bill Elliot had a comfortable lead on the final lap when he lost a tire, handing Bobby another win.
That was nearly seven years ago.
Bobby has won in trucks and Nationwide but has really been a mid-field driver since 2004. He never really contended to make any “Chase” fields.
From 2006-2009, Booby was an also-ran.
It is now June of 2010. Over last two races, I have endured watching Bobby become a “start and park” driver. This has been a very painful experience for me. I don’t want to abandon Bobby.
I don’t know what to do.
What is my message to Bobby? Hang your helmet up.
You don’t have anything else to prove. You can’t enjoy the starting and parking. You are close to being, or maybe is already considered to be, in the Richard Petty/ Darrell Waltrip category, staying too long and damaging your legacy.
Bobby is already one of the most disrespected drivers in NASCAR as far as most media goes. Even when DW and Petty were bringing up the rear, they got a lot of coverage. I’m not trying to compare Bobby to those two, but I think you can see what I mean.
When May 8, Bobby's birthday, falls on a Sunday, it is Mother’s Day, always an off week until a few years ago.
During the running of the Southern 500 this year, I don’t recall any mention of it being Bobby’s Birthday. They never fail to mention Kyle Busch’s birthday, do they?
I would say the worst thing I’ve ever seen a team do to a driver happened to Bobby last year, when HOF racing removed Bobby from the car for several races.
The fact that the first race was at a track where Bobby has more wins than anyone else was a slap in the face to me, and I’m sure it was to Bobby as well.
Bobby owns several records that few even know about. Like the fact that Bobby was the first Busch Series champion to win a Cup race.
I believe he was the only driver to do that until Joe Nemechek in 1999. He is also the first of 3 drivers in the 100 year history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that has won in two different series (IROC and NASCAR). He is the only driver with a Cup title, a Busch Series Title, and an IROC title.
I honestly believe Joe Gibbs racing would have folded without Bobby. I know Dale Jarrett won a Daytona 500 for the team, but so did Bob Whitcom Racing.
Whitcom’s team was gone two years later.
Bobby made the 18 car a contender and made Joe Gibbs a Champion in two different sports. Unless Bobby could land a ride with Childress, or someone like that, I hope 2010 is his final season in the Sprint Cup Series.
Bobby may have a lot to offer, but he has nothing left to prove.
At least not to me.