For Bobby Labonte, change is good

by Dave Yaeck
January 12, 2006

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For Bobby Labonte, the last five seasons since winning his first Nextel Cup Series title in 2000 has been a series of highs and lows with the lowest coming in 2005 finishing 24th in points, the lowest position in his Nextel Cup career, and an end of an era with Joe Gibbs Racing.

But Labonte has a lot to look forward to. Late last season, Labonte made the move and signed on with Petty Enterprises to take the helm of one of the most recognizable numbers in NASCAR history. (Photo right courtesy NASCAR/Getty Images)

At the Daytona 500 on February 19th, Labonte will pilot the #43 Cheerios Dodge for Petty Enterprises. The number that Richard Petty drove to 200 victories in his career, and Labonte couldn’t be more excited.

“I’m real excited, obviously,” Labonte said in an interview at NASCAR’s annual pre-season thunder at Daytona International Speedway on Monday.

Along with Labonte, Petty Enterprises acquired Todd Parrott as crew chief of the #43 Cheerios Dodge, and Robbie Loomis, former crew chief for Jeff Gordon and the #24 DuPont team returns to Petty Racing as Executive Vice President of Operations.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for me and I am looking forward to working with Todd (Parrott) and everybody in the Petty Organization.”

For Labonte, a 13 year veteran of NASCAR’s top series, it will be an honor for him to be able to carry on the legacy that Richard Petty started all those years ago. (Photo left courtesy NASCAR/Getty Images)

“It’s just going to be a huge deal. There have only been a few cars like that, that has been around for that many years and has that tradition behind it. We look forward to doing well in it and making sure we get back to Victory Lane.”

Labonte is no stranger to that. Over his career, he has 21 victories as well as winning in NASCAR’s Busch and Craftsman Truck series. He is one of only a few drivers to win in all three top classes in NASCAR.

Labonte who had been with Joe Gibbs Racing for his entire career, and he says that he will always cherish the times he had there, but he felt that this was a decision as well as the timing was right.
“Honestly, I think it was a move I felt like in my heart that if I had to say well if I had to drive for somebody else who would it be for? I look at driving for Petty Racing as a great opportunity, not just an option.”

With the past few years not being too kind to either Labonte or the Pettys, they all feel it’s time to wipe the slate clean, get their hands dirty, and get the #43 back to the glory of the old days.

“I think you gotta be with a team that’s hungry,” Labonte said. “We’re positive about this and feel like we got great race cars, been able to see them and touch them and know what they are. We talk to people; I think that we got a great positive outlook and just want to get started.”

Labonte admits things have changed over the years and has gotten more and more competitive as the younger generation come in.

“I guess the biggest thing I noticed is that over the years that every lap is more like qualifying,” Labonte said. “You know, I think that just happens because different drivers come in and try something different and all of a sudden now it’s, everybody’s faster, teams are faster helps everyone go faster.”

Labonte is very excited to work with his friend Kyle Petty. Over the years, Labonte and Petty have worked on various charities, most well known, the Victory Junction Gang Camp. On top of that, they live only a half mile away from each other.

“It’s gonna be neat because I think our passion for racing and a lot of things are the same and I feel like we got a lot of good things to do together.”

Whatever the case may be, Bobby Labonte, at just 41 years old, still has a lot of driving to do and maybe a bit to prove, not only to himself but to the critics that had written him off last year. But together with the Pettys, who are looking forward to getting back into the winners circle, this will be a relationship that all can benefit from.

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