Best run of season for Labonte comes up short at Bristol

Bobby Labonte and the JTG/Daugherty team have been in the news a little more than usual lately. The team owners came under fire from fans in June when they sat former series champion, Labonte out of the car for the race at Michigan in favor of journeyman driver, AJ Allmendinger.

The reason the team cited for the change was their lack of performance and the need to get another perspective from a driver that has proven himself to be fast in several different cars. Though the team stressed the fact that Labonte was their driver and that he was not being permanently replaced, the fans still felt Labonte had been done a dis-service.

Labonte started the Michigan race driving the No. 51 for Phoenix Racing. He crashed out on lap one, however, when he collided with Jeff Gordon. To make matters worse, in the eyes of the fans, two weeks later the team put Allmendinger back in the car again at Kentucky. This time Labonte did not enter the event, thus ending the second longest start streak in NASCAR’s top series.

The team’s decision, though not a popular with fans, seems to have paid off. Allmendinger performed well in the car, scoring a 19th, a 22nd, and managed a top-10 at Watkins Glen, a feat the team had not achieved in some time.

The team put the information gathered from the experiment with Allmendinger to work. Labonte has ran better than his average in several races. Labonte qualified 23rd for the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol, which was close to his best starting position of the season, 20th at Sonoma.

Labonte worked his way toward the front and with the help of some pit strategy, made it to the top-5 and stayed there for over 80 laps. Bad luck strikes the No. 47 on lap 176, however, when leader Clint Bowyer got together with Travis Kvapil and spun on the frontstretch. Labonte had nowhere to go and slid into the side of the No. 15.  After spending 53 laps behind the wall, Labonte made it back out to earn valuable series points. Labonte finished 38th.

One thing was evident, however, the team has heart and is still putting forth an effort to improve and do as well as possible in a tough sport. They could have easily given up, packed up and beat the traffic out of Bristol, Tennessee, but they chose not to do that. I believe the top-20 finishes that team owner Brad Daugherty indicated they were looking for are just around the corner.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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