By admin | March 5, 2009
By Richard Allen
Just a few short weeks ago it looked as if Bobby Labonte might not have a ride at all going into the 2009 Sprint Cup season. His Petty Enterprises team, for which he had driven since 2006, was on the verge of closing its doors and the driver was given his release.
The problem for Labonte was that with sponsors dropping out and teams either folding or merging there were very few rides available, even for a former Sprint Cup champion.
Hastily, a deal was indeed struck between Hall of Fame Racing, Yates Racing and Ask.com to put Labonte in the #96 car in a partnership with Yates. It was somewhat of a strange array but in the current NASCAR economic climate deals such as this may become commonplace.
Even though he has the ability to use a past champion’s provisional, the #96 car was allowed to use points that had been earned by one of the Yates cars from last year. As it turns out, there has not been an issue with qualifying. Labonte has placed himself solidly in each of the three fields so far.
In what may be a surprise to many, Labonte currently sits in the 10th position of the Sprint Cup standings.
Last Sunday in Las Vegas, the #96 team used some pit strategy and reliability to put themselves at the front of the pack. Smart driving by a driver known for just that allowed them to stay there. As a result, a 5th place finish was their reward.
Now, this team heads to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Kobalt Tools 500. Labonte has traditionally performed very well on this track. He has six career wins at the Georgia speedway, more than he has at any other track, and he has scored 12 Top 5s on the 1.54 mile facility.
The Las Vegas run was great for this team because it showed they can compete. And, that run came just before they head to their driver’s best track. A strong showing in Atlanta could really help this team build momentum going forward in 2009.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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