Could Sunday be the final race of Bobby Labonte's Sprint Cup Series career?
The 2000 Cup champion hasn't announced plans for next season, and with almost every full-time team set for next season, unless Labonte can snag a part-time role or hitch on with a new team, Phoenix may be his 718th and last start. (Though don't be surprised if a team puts Labonte in its car for the Daytona 500 for the use of the Past Champion's Provisional.)
It's been a trying season for Labonte and JTG-Daugherty Racing. The team brought AJ Allmendinger on board for what it deemed to be a second opinion earlier this season. Allmendinger's first race was at Michigan in June, while Labonte was able to catch a ride with Phoenix Racing to keep his consecutive starts streak intact.
However, two weeks later at Kentucky, Allmendinger was in the No. 47 again and Labonte didn't have a ride and the streak ended at 704 races. Allmendinger is scheduled to drive the No. 47 at Homestead and signed with the team to drive in 2014.
Over Labor Day weekend, Labonte was scheduled to drive for Phoenix again at Atlanta, but broke his ribs in a cycling accident and missed three weeks.
Labonte hasn't won since 2003, so for many newer NASCAR fans, his past accomplishments may be overlooked. However, whenever he is eligible for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his career will serve as a fascinating barometer for how voters will consider the standards for drivers.
Through his 717 starts to date, Labonte has 21 wins, 115 top fives and that 2000 championship. Is that enough to be in the Hall of Fame? For reference, Dale Jarrett, a 2013 inductee, finished with 32 wins and a Cup title, but Jarrett also won the Daytona 500 three times.
Is any driver who wins a Cup title a Hall of Famer? Labonte's inclusion or exclusion may answer that question. What do you think?
- - - - - - -