Petty Enterprises Releases Bobby Labonte amid Financial Troubles

Phil SpainContributor IDecember 11, 2008

Eight years ago, Bobby Labonte was on top of the NASCAR world. Being crowned NASCAR Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) champion meant Labonte was going to be a legend for years to come.

Granted, the past few years have not been kind to the former champ, but seeing the following words in today's news came as a shock to pretty much everyone in the NASCAR community.

"Labonte and Petty Part Ways".

What? That can't be right. Bobby is a former Busch Series (now Nationwide) Champion, and also a former Winston Cup champ, you would think a company like the Petty's would do all they could to keep him.

Then something came to me. It's not the Petty's fault that we're in a bad economy, and this statement made by Labonte really seems to sum it up:

"In over 15 years of racing in the Sprint Cup Series, I can't remember a time when the sport's landscape looks as it does today. Saying that, Petty Enterprises and I had serious and very sincere discussions about what was best for myself and everyone involved at Petty Enterprises moving forward.

These discussions culminated with us agreeing that moving in a separate direction will be the greatest way to reach our end goals. It was by no means an easy decision. I am, and will always be, very appreciative of what Richard Petty and the Petty family, every employee of Petty Enterprises and members of Boston Ventures did to invest in bettering my career the past three seasons. Moving forward, I'm very anxious to prepare for the 2009 season.

I do not currently have a contract with any other team for 2009, but I am ready to explore all opportunities and form the next partnership in my career. I'll continue to keep these matters private and will make the appropriate announcement and comments when my future plans are confirmed. I appreciate everyone's continued support."

This, along with news that Richard's son, Kyle, will not be returning to Petty Enterprises next season has made this a hard off-season to swallow for the boys in Petty blue.

NASCAR hasn't always been a sport about money and lucrative sponsorships. As we draw to a close in on 60 years of NASCAR, our current financial state makes the prior years seem like they never existed. In the 50s and 60s, drivers raced for little to no money, and when they got money, it was just enough to tow the car home for the week.

It makes you wonder where the sport's loyalty lies. So that brings forth this question: Has NASCAR gone away from the days of racing for the love of the sport, only to now worry about who will sponsor their car next season?