- May 08, 1964
- United States
- Nascar Cup Series
- Go Green Racing
Robert Allen Labonte, better known as Bobby, is a former NASCAR Busch Series and Winston Cup champion and one of the most popular American drivers. Bobby Labonte was born on 8th of May 1964 in Corpus Christi, Texas. His brother Terry is also NASCAR series driver and former champion while his nephew Justin drives successfully in the same competition.
Accomplished quarter midgets driver
Bobby started to race when he was five, driving quarter midgets in Texas. In 1970 he won his first race and until 1977 he has won many races and championships across the US. After graduating in quarter midget racing, Labonte switched to kart racing in 1978 but soon left karts and following brother’s footsteps tried to find a way to get into the NASCAR.
Fabricator in his brothers' team
In 1982, Bobby Labonte debuted in the Busch (now Xfinity) Series, finishing 26th at Martinsville Speedway. After that, he worked in his brother’s crew as a fabricator. He was picking experience and knowledge how to prepare a car while racing wasn’t priority at that moment. He had to wait until 1985 for the next race, again at Martinsville. Bobby was driving his own car nad finished 30th while in the second attempt at the same venue did better and took 17th position.
Still concentrated on the duties in brother’s team, Bobby over the years sporadically entered Busch Series races. In 1989 it was obvious that he has the potential to become very good racer after he has finished 4th at North Carolina Speedway.
First full time season in NASCAR Busch Series
Finally, in 1990 Bobby Labonte competed in Busch Series for the full season with his own team. Driving an Oldsmobile #44 he had a very good rookie season. Labonte scored two pole positions, had six Top 5 finishes and 17 Top 10s. At the end of the season, he was 4th and was named Most popular driver in the Busch Series.
Title won in the second attempt
The start was promising but what was to come was better. Bobby Labonte won the 1991 Busch Series title thanks to two race wins, 10 Top 5s and 21 Top 10s. The same year, for the first time, he appeared in the Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup), driving in two races, but without success.
Even after he has failed to defend his crown, the following year was good. Labonte scored three wins in 1992 while at the end of the year he was only three points behind a new champion Joe Nemechek what was the second closest season in the history of the NASCAR’s top three divisions.
Move to Sprint Cup Series
Labonte in 1993 moved to Sprint Cup after he was called by Bill Davis Racing. Driving a Ford Thunderbird #22, Bobby had a solid rookie season. At Richmond, he earned his first pole position and later finished in Top 10 on six occasions, finishing 19th in the championship. Labonte deserved Rookie of the Year award. In the same team, his team continued to compete in the Busch Series with David Green acting as a driver.
Green won the Busch Series title in 1994 for Labonte Motorsports while Bobby in his second year with Bill Davis Racing, this time driving a Pontiac, had a small drop after he has finished 21st overall. The same year Bobby also drove in 12 Busch Series races for Wagner Racing and won the race at Michigan.
Long and successful partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing
Labonte entered the season of 1995 as a member of Joe Gibbs Racing, the team with which he spent 11 fruitful years. Driving a Chevrolet, in his first year with a team, Bobby had three race wins and for the first time was among Sprint Cup Top 10 drivers at the end of the year. The following year he has won only the last race of the season at Atlanta. Interestingly, his brother Terry clinched the title in that race while Bobby was 11th in the points.
Switching to Pontiac in 1997, Bobby Labonte again had one race win and again it was at the season-ending event at Atlanta. Nonetheless, he had much more Top 10 finishes that year and climbed up to the 7th position in the championship. Progress continued in 1998 when Bobby Labonte took 6th position. For the first time, he won the race at Talladega and finished second at Daytona what is his best result at the famous track.
Labonte wins 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup trophy
Before the start of 1999, Bobby Labonte was rightfully considered as the one of the favorites in the battle for the crown. Despite failing to win in 12 opening races, Labonte did a great job considering that he had eight podiums. In the rest of the season, he has won five races, had many Top 5s but that still wasn’t enough for the title. Labonte finished as a NASCAR Sprint Cup runner-up, losing to Dale Jarrett by 201 points.
Finally, in 2000 Bobby Labonte reached the top of the NASCAR’s most eminent division. He was the leader of the championship for 25 weeks, scored four wins (Rockingham, Indianapolis, Darlington, and Charlotte) and had 19 Top 5 finishes. At the end of the season, he was 265 points ahead of Dale Earnhardt.
Video - Bobby Labonte claims NASCAR Winston Cup crown in 2000
Peak of the career was reached
After a wonderful year, Labonte had less pressure on his back. As a champion, in 2001 he won two races (Pocono and Atlanta) but also had too many poor results and couldn’t defend his crown. Anyway, he could be happy with 6th position overall and nice sum on his account. That was probably his last good season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the results started to worsen.
In 2002 Bobby Labonte won the first race at Martinsville what was his only victory that year. He took 16th place in the championship. The following year Labonte slightly improved, winning the races at Atlanta and Homestead (his last so far), three races in a row he finished on the second place and finally clinched 8th place what was like a swan song.
Beginning of the downfall
After 10 years, Labonte for the first time failed to win the race in 2004. He had a couple of solid performances, but that was enough only for 12th place at the end of the season while in 2005, his last year with Joe Gibbs, Labonte had only seven Top 10 finishes what caused a huge drop in the standings. He finished at 24th position what was his worst achievement during the whole career.
In 2006, Labonte signed with Petty Enterprises. Driving a Dodge with famous #43 over the three years, former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion barely could reach Top 5 finishes in the races. In 2006 and 2008 he was 21st in the championship while in 2007 he finished in the 18th position. Petty Enterprises released Labonte at the end of 2008 but Bobby was ready to continue his career.
Further and further away from the top
At the beginning of 2009, Labonte signed with Hall of Fame Racing to become a driver of their Ford #96. After three years, he finally managed to score one Top 5 finish, but that was his best result in that season. With 11 races remaining, Hall of Fame Racing decided to part ways with Labonte. Bobby found a new engagement with The Racers Group and had one Top 10 finish. At the end of the year, he took 30th place and further downfall looked inevitable.
Video - All Bobby Labonte's Sprint Cup wins
Former champion stayed with TRG Motorsports in the first half of the 2010 campaign. Despite good conditions and better logistical support, Labonte’s results were awful so in the mid-season he left the team after he was unable to find a sponsorship. Later that year he also drove for Phoenix Racing and Labonte Racing, but that hasn’t changed anything in the terms of the results.
In 2011 Bobby Labonte became a driver of JTG Daugherty Racing’s Toyota. The start of the cooperation was good as he finished 4th at Daytona what was 200th Top 10 finish in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. Unfortunately, until the end of the year, he managed to finish in Top 10 only once more and took 29th place overall.
It's a time for the part-time racing
In 2012, Labonte moved up to the 23rd position, scoring two Top 10s while in the following year he was unable to compete for the full-time after he has suffered broken ribs in a cycling accident. His streak of 704 consecutive starts in NASCAR was ended and soon Labonte announced that from 2014 he will compete only as a part-timer in restrictor plate races. He has appeared in only three events that year while in 2015 he drove in four races, as a member of Go FAS Racing, the team with which he stayed on in 2016 part-time campaign, too.