NASCAR Cup Series News (17933)
NASCAR RACE HUB, FS1’s daily NASCAR news and highlight program, opens its 11th season Monday, Jan. 27 (6:00 PM ET) with a preseason special, followed by four consecutive days live from the FOX Sports set in Miami, site of Super Bowl LIV (Sunday, Feb. 2, 6:30 PM ET on FOX).
Shannon Spake and Adam Alexander return as hosts, with four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and FOX NASCAR lead analyst Jeff Gordon, 2010 Daytona 500 winner and FOX NASCAR analyst Jamie McMurray, two-time Daytona 500 winning crew chief Larry McReynolds and NASCAR Cup Series drivers Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and William Byron scheduled throughout the week.
“This is truly above and beyond any amazing professional scenario I could ever come up with,” said Spake, a South Florida native and FOX NFL sideline reporter. “Hosting RACE HUB at the site of the Super Bowl less than an hour from where I attended high school and college … you simply can’t dream this big. I’m beyond excited.”
Alan Cavanna and Kaitlyn Vince report for RACE HUB, with Vincie stepping up this season to host NASCAR RACE HUB: WEEKEND EDITION, as well as a slate of weekday shows in 2020. NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte, a 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee, and Ricky Craven, a winner in four different NASCAR racing series, serve as analysts alongside Vincie.
In addition to Labonte and Craven, driver/crew chief analysts confirmed for NASCAR RACE HUB this season include Larry McReynolds, Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Andy Petree, Austin Dillon and Drew Blickensderfer.
Fox Sports PR
Last November, on the eve of his team fielding an unprecedented three of the four cars eligible for the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy, Joe Gibbs sat alongside his team’s former driver – now championship rival team owner - Tony Stewart and reminisced about their time together as they previewed the next day’s season finale.
Stewart won two of his three Cup titles driving for Joe Gibbs Racing and the two men smiled and patted one another on the back as they shared their fondest memories of working together with an audience of rapt media members. They laughed. They told tales. They spoke about the many triumphs and happy times and teased about overcoming the inevitable challenges of their large personalities.
And of course, each of these two great competitors wanted to beat the other.
The next day Gibbs raised his fifth NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy after Kyle Busch drove to his second Cup title with his JGR teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin finishing runner-up and fourth.
Next week all of NASCAR will be celebrating Gibbs again, this time as a new member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame during the Jan. 31 formal induction ceremony in Charlotte, N.C. As it turns out, Gibbs will – perhaps fittingly - have the three-time Cup champ Stewart and Bobby Labonte, who won the 2000 Cup title driving for Gibbs, as Hall of Fame classmates. Waddell Wilson and the late Buddy Baker round out the Hall’s 2020 class of five.
“Well obviously, it’s a thrill for me and what you think about when something like this happens is, I get pushed out front, but I think about all the people that built the race team and are a part of it," Gibbs said upon receiving his selection news last May - deferring as usual to those who work on his team.
“I think about the people and I am thankful."
This year has been particularly challenging for Gibbs and his family. He lost his son JD, 49, who served as the team president, last January after a lengthy illness. But Gibbs and the team have already been lifted by JD Gibbs’ legacy.
Busch’s championship is the organization’s fifth and it was a fitting conclusion to a season that featured a third Daytona 500 trophy to open the year and ultimately the most wins (19) earned by a single team in a single season in the Modern Era (1972-Present). Gibbs now has 341 national series wins – the most by any team in NASCAR history. And all four JGR Cup Series drivers – Busch, Truex, Hamlin and Erik Jones – hoisted trophies last year.
The 2019 season was certainly the exclamation point to a humble beginning in the sport. Dale Jarrett, a 2014 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, was the first driver Gibbs hired in 1992 when the former Super Bowl-winning coach decided to launch a NASCAR career too. Jarrett earned the JGR team the first of its 176 Cup wins in the 1993 Daytona 500 – one of the most iconic moments in NASCAR.
It was a momentous afternoon providing the former Washington Redskins head coach the assurance that his racing venture was the right call.
“He might be the first person to come into the sport as a car owner and had a sponsor lined up before he had anything done," Jarrett recalled. “Not many do that.
“That tells you just how good he is and how motivated he is once he gets to that point he wants to make something happen.
“You talk about humble beginnings. He sat [Jarrett’s crew chief] Jimmy Makar and I down and said, ‘Look, I’ve borrowed $800,000 and that’s all I’m borrowing. If we can’t make this thing get up and going … I’ll shut this down and chalk it up to a bad investment. But hopefully we make it happen.’
“And he has built this 500-plus employee business up from literally 18 people that first year and an $800,000 loan. It’s just incredible."
Added Jarrett, “Once you get to know Joe Gibbs you realize he’s going to be successful at whatever he does but this was a venture he had no idea really how to go about things. So, he was relying on people - just as he did when he was coaching – he had good people around him to get the best players and put his plan in place.
“It was kind of the same thing with this when he got into racing."
The approach – Gibbs’ philosophy and his great faith – soon transitioned from new venture to championship caliber standard-setter. After Jarrett, who competed for the team’s first three seasons (1992-94), Gibbs hired the 1991 Busch Grand National [now Xfinity Series] champion Bobby Labonte in 1995.
Labonte spent 11 years with Gibbs winning the 2000 NASCAR Cup Series championship and their fellow 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame classmate Stewart contributed another two titles to the Gibbs organization in 2002 and 2005.
With Labonte and Stewart, Gibbs’ team during those seasons from the mid-1990s to late 2000s were perennial championship favorites – claiming race trophy after race trophy. It was high octane performance in some of the sport’s most celebrated days. And it remains so today.
It was also good preparation – a test for the coach who was enjoying great results but managing a team of big personalities.
“I used to try and get to the hauler as fast as I could if he [Stewart] had a bad night because he was going to tear up the inside of the hauler," Gibbs joked with Stewart in that championship pre-race news conference at Homestead.
The two exchanged stories, long looks, laughter and pats on the back while sharing tales of their pairing. And then Stewart got serious.
“I learned a lot from this guy in the years I was there," Stewart said, turning in his seat to speak directly to Gibbs. “I’ve said it a million times, if I didn’t work for him, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now.
“I wouldn’t be doing the things that I’m doing now. I wouldn’t be in debt like I am now," he said allowing a smile. “And I blame it all on you Joe.
“But it’s great to have worked with somebody like him because he has worked with so many great people. It’s not something you always see at the race track.
“A lot of it pertains to everyday life, too and when you get a chance to sit with him long enough and when you shut your mouth and listen, spend more time listening than talking you can learn a lot from this guy and I promise you, it helps.”
Certainly with Gibbs’ upcoming NASCAR Hall of Fame induction and his 1996 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, this 79-year-old natural born leader from tiny Mocksville, N.C. – where Daniel Boone’s father Squire once served as Justice of the Peace – has proven the kind of leader that great drive, abundant faith can produce.
With Jarrett already in the great Hall, Labonte and Stewart joining Gibbs, next week’s honor will likely feel as comfortable as it is so deserved.
“You couldn’t write a book and have this happen," Labonte said of this Hall of Fame class. “I just sit back and reflect on the times with Joe and it’s awesome we’re all three going in at the same time.
“You just couldn’t ask for anything better than that."
For all the record number of trophies, major races won and championship celebrations, Gibbs’ most endearing legacy to the sport may well be his philosophy and leadership. His heart and mind - his ability to motivate and to embrace the joy in a job well done.
“He helped me as a driver and I’m pretty sure that Bobby [Labonte], Tony [Stewart], Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin would tell you he just makes you a better person," Jarrett said. “He gives you the tools to be a better driver but just conversations with him – if you listen, pay attention and just watch his reactions – then you become a better person."
As the 2020 season rolls into view and the industry prepares to hit the open roads, NASCAR and Mack Trucks announced today a multi-year extension that continues its designation as the “Official Hauler of NASCAR®.”
For nearly five-years, NASCAR has logged approximately 450,000 miles annually with Mack trucks, paving the way for successful races at various tracks across North America. In 2018, NASCAR helped Mack unveil its new Mack Anthem® model – the latest addition to its premium line-up and still hauling the NASCAR fleet today – during NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day.
“Our relationship with Mack Trucks continues to deliver a transportation solution that plays an integral role in our success every weekend,” said Elton Sawyer, vice president, officiating and technical inspection, NASCAR. “With their partnership, we have developed a customized fleet of NASCAR trucks that has simplified our transportation logistics and in turn, help us remain focused on our events.”
Mack Trucks utilizes the partnership to engage customers across the country with a variety of activations across the sport. Most recently, a Mack Anthem wrapped in a custom-designed, military-themed scheme was front and center during last year’s NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola® – an industry-wide expression of respect, appreciation and reverence for those who have served the nation both past and present.
Four different design concepts for the wrap were shared on social media where fans could vote for their favorite scheme. The winning design, which featured all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, earned nearly 40 percent of the vote.
“Our partnership with NASCAR has provided unique opportunities to showcase our products, services and technology to a wide array of customers,” said John Walsh, vice president, marketing, Mack Trucks. “Through the extension of our relationship, we look forward to doing even more with NASCAR to further demonstrate the value we’re delivering to our customers’ businesses today through industry-leading total transportation solutions.”
The popular NASCAR Salutes Mack Anthem paint scheme will return for its third installment in the 2020 season, and once again, fans will be given the opportunity to choose the design for the NASCAR Cup Series rig. Additionally, Mack Trucks will be the presenting sponsor of NASCAR Digital Media’s weekly Power Rankings video franchise this year.
Mack Trucks will also continue to serve on the NASCAR Fuel for Business Council, an award-winning business-to-business program, that brings together an exclusive group of nearly 60 NASCAR Official Partners throughout the year to explore potential joint business opportunities. .
NASCAR and Mack Trucks will embark on their fifth season together in February when the fleet of Mack Anthems departs for Daytona International Speedway for the famed DAYTONA 500. The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season will commence Thursday, February 13 with the Bluegreen Vacations Duels at DAYTONA airing on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM at 7 p.m. ET.
Christopher Bell will make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the 62nd running of the Daytona 500 with Procore on the No. 95 Camry for Leavine Family Racing (LFR). Procore, a leading provider of construction management software, first appeared on the hood of the No. 95 in 2017 and has continued to build on their program as they enter their fourth season with LFR. Procore will be featured as the primary sponsor six times throughout the 2020 season, kicking off with the season-opener Daytona 500.
“Procore is proud to continue our partnership with Leavine Family Racing,” said Jim Sinai, SVP Marketing at Procore. “NASCAR has one of the most passionate fanbases in sports, and our relationship with Leavine Family Racing allows us to get the Procore brand to millions of people every Sunday. We look forward to supporting what promises to be an exciting season of racing.”
LFR heads into their 10th year of NASCAR competition and is poised for their best season yet with rookie Bell behind the wheel of the No. 95 and the continued relationship with Toyota Racing Development (TRD) and Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Procore has been a long-term partner with Leavine Family Racing and we are thrilled to have them returning for the 10th Anniversary of racing for our team,” said Jeremy Lange, President of Leavine Family Racing. “We anticipate an exciting season with Christopher behind the wheel and are counting the days until the No. 95 Procore Camry races at Daytona.”
Bell has made a name for himself while working his way through the ranks. In 2017 Bell captured the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Championship and heads into his Cup Series debut on the heels of a record-setting 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series season where he won eight races and led over 2,000 laps.
“I’m ready to get back to the track and for this opportunity with Leavine Family Racing to drive the No. 95 Camry,” said Bell. “The Cup Series is the ultimate goal and having the Daytona 500 as my first start with Procore on the hood of my car is very exciting.”
Procore leveraged a NASCAR partnership in 2017 with two races on the No. 95 and has continued to see value in their investment. NASCAR provides a target-rich environment of sport’s fans who work within the construction industry. NASCAR fans are shown to be 60% more likely than non-fans to have a building and ground maintenance or construction occupation, so the sponsorship has been a successful platform for Procore to increase their brand awareness.
Roush Fenway Racing has announced a partnership with Castrol for the high-performance lubricant brand to be the team’s official oil partner. In addition, Castrol will serve as a primary sponsor on Ryan Newman’s No. 6 NASCAR Cup Series entry in select events.
“We are really excited to have Castrol on board as our official oil partner,” said NASCAR Hall of Famer and team co-owner Jack Roush. “Castrol has been a leader in engine lubrication for as long as I can recall. They have a history of competing with great success at the highest levels of motorsports. I’m looking forward to the edge we feel they will provide our race cars going forward and we can’t wait to launch our partnership in Daytona.”
Roush Fenway Fords will run Castrol Oil exclusively in all of its Ford machines, with Castrol’s debut as a primary coming at Auto Club Speedway on March 1.
“Jack has a hard-earned reputation for success in NASCAR and all of us at Castrol are thrilled by the opportunity to join the Roush Fenway team,” said David Bouet, Castrol’s US president.
“Castrol has a long history of partnership and success with many Ford teams – in NHRA, World Rally and with the iconic Ford GTs in endurance. We look forward to using this proven race expertise and our leading performance technology to build on the team’s record of success.”
NASCAR veteran Ryan Newman has powered the No. 6 into a solid contender, propelling the iconic Ford Mustang back into the NASCAR playoffs last season with 14 top-10 finishes. Chris Buescher, who brought home Jack Roush’s eighth NASCAR Championship in 2015, returns to Roush Fenway to pilot the No. 17 in 2020.
To a whole generation of NASCAR fans, Buddy Baker was for years the gentle voice and big personality on television race broadcasts and a popular SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show. He loved to laugh and lift the audience and his knowledge of the sport was second-to-none.
He had that enviable perspective because he was such an important force as a NASCAR driver – winning 19 times despite running only two full seasons in 35 years of NASCAR Cup Series competition. He hoisted a Daytona 500 trophy, won four Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway races, was the first to turn a 200-mph lap (in testing) and steered cars for an A-list of owners – many NASCAR Hall of Famers in their own right - running the gamut from Ray Fox to Petty Enterprises to Bud Moore and the Wood Brothers.
And on Jan. 31, seven years after helping induct his champion father Buck Baker into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the late Buddy Baker will have his own place in the great Hall alongside Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and Waddell Wilson as the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees.
“I’ve always been proud to call Buck Baker dad," Buddy Baker said as he emotionally spoke at his late father’s 2007 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction. And now the Bakers will be joined again permanently among the sport’s most celebrated legends.
Buddy Baker passed away from cancer in August 2015 but his love of the sport and the sport’s adoration of him is clearly evident from drivers he competed against to fans that adored him to the media he worked alongside.
“I don’t know if it’s possible to separate the driving portion of his career from the TV portion of his career because it’s all a part of the Buddy Baker story in racing," longtime NASCAR television announcer Allen Bestwick said of his former broadcast partner.
“You could put [fellow NASCAR Hall of Famers] Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons in that category with Buddy. When the sport was rocketing through the growth period, they were the people that were the experts that educated people who were watching at home in their living room and newer to NASCAR. They were the people who gave them enjoyment and introduced them to the characters and the stories.
“And people that came into the sport during the tail end of his driving career, maybe did not understand what a force Buddy Baker was in his driving career."
One of the most noteworthy characteristics of Baker’s driving career was that he was so successful despite running only partial schedules for 33 of 35 years, including the majority of the time in the 1970s when he established himself as a renowned force on some of the sport’s most iconic tracks in Daytona, Talladega, Darlington (S.C.) and Charlotte.
He was particularly good on the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega, which during the peak of Baker’s career in the 1970s, were still considered relatively new forms of competition.
Before the late Dale Earnhardt’s famously fickle relationship pursuing a Daytona 500 trophy, Baker was the poster child for near misses in the sport’s most famous event. The 1970s were a classic heartbreak storyline at Daytona for Baker, who for example, led 156 of the 200 laps in 1973 only to suffer an engine blow with 10 laps remaining. He finished runner-up in 1971 by 10-seconds to Richard Petty. Baker was third in 1977.
During a 20-year period from 1967-87, Baker had 14 top-10 finishes in the Daytona 500, highlighted, by his win from the pole position in 1980. That February afternoon Baker led 143 of 200 laps and his average speed of 177.602 mph remains one of the fastest Daytona 500s in the 61-year history of the “Great American Race.”
In 64 total races at Daytona International Speedway, Baker earned an amazing 31 top-10 finishes and is in rarefied company to have won both the Daytona 500 and the 400-mile mid-season race at the track.
His work on the Talladega high banks was no less impressive. He won three straight Talladega races in the 1975-76 seasons – the first to string together that many wins on the sport’s biggest track. He added a fourth trophy there the same year he won the Daytona 500 (1980).
“In the early era of superspeedway racing - which we kind of forget that a lot, that these tracks were just built in the ‘60s - they were a brand-new thing," Bestwick said. “And Buddy was so good at it and adapted so quickly to it. He was one of the dominant forces of the big tracks when the big tracks became ‘a thing.’
“That was new ground for everyone. And Buddy was a master at it."
Perhaps one of Baker’s most important contributions to the sport as a driver was his work with no trophy on the line: testing tires, and specifically, developing tire inner liners. It was high speed, high danger work but Baker was willing to do it because he knew the outcome would potentially save so many lives. And it has.
“All the things he did, developing the [tire] inner liner, I mean blowing out tires and hitting the wall on purpose in tests – those are just things people don’t do anymore," three-time Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip recalled of Baker, someone who was both friend (off-track) and foe (on-track).
“So, he was a rare breed and a really great race car driver. When it came to Daytona and Talladega, especially, I’d take him over anybody. He was that good."
In all, Baker earned 19 Cup Series wins, celebrating in Victory Lane at least one time in 11 different seasons. He won 38 pole positions, including a career-best six poles in 1980. He finished with an even 700 starts finishing top five in 202 races and top 10 in 311 races.
He only competed fulltime in the 1976 and 1977 seasons. Perhaps his best season statistically came in 1973 when he ran 27 of 28 races and finished in the top-five a personal best 16 times, and top 10 in 20 of the 27 races. He won twice and earned five pole positions that year.
His best finish in the Cup Series championship was fifth in 1977. Three times he finished in the top 10 in the championship without running a full season’s slate of races. His final trophy hoist came fittingly enough at Daytona International Speedway in the summer of 1983, when he scored a 29-second victory over Morgan Shephard.
Baker’s run of surpassed expectations and shake-your-head achievements essentially came to an end following a severe head injury in 1988 after competing in the prestigious Charlotte Motor Speedway 600-miler. Baker was involved in a crash but didn’t realize the extent of his injury immediately after the race. Three months later, he required emergency brain surgery.
While Baker made a few more random race starts, he soon discovered a second career - broadcasting.
Fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Waltrip appreciates Baker’s unique place in NASCAR lore. Both Waltrip and Baker moved from the driver’s seat to the television commentating chair after their racing careers and then blossomed in the heyday of NASCAR’s big media personalities.
“A lot of people don’t even know I drove, they think all I’ve done is television," Waltrip said. “It’s fascinating to me, but that’s a fact. I’ll mention something I did back in my heyday, and someone will say, ‘I didn’t know you did that. I didn’t know you drove.’”
Ask any of the numerous radio and television broadcasters Baker worked with what it was like to call a race alongside him and inevitably they smile. There is always a warm laugh. Not at Baker but because of Baker. He had such a way of putting people at ease. He was candid in his broadcast descriptions, oftentimes eliciting a “that is exactly what I was thinking” feeling from his audience.
His tall 6-foot-5 stature may have given off an intimidating vibe, but Baker was actually unfailingly warm and kind to people and had a way of putting people at ease. His presence on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio was a key connection between Baker and an adoring audience that respected his past and appreciated his present.
“He had a connection with people and a passion for the sport," Bestwick said.
“Broadcasting really, to go on television, is a whole new world from driving a race car," Bestwick reminded. “Nowadays, guys grow up being media-trained. That didn’t exist back then. But Buddy’s love for the sport and his natural enjoyment and his gregarious nature at the racetrack was able to shine through on television.
“People can tell right away if you’re faking it or you’re real and Buddy was as real as they got. He loved the sport, he loved talking about it and he loved being around it. And that all came across through television and radio."
The connection between Baker and NASCAR fans was absolutely real. So real, that in the summer of 2015, he decided to share his most personal news with his adoring media audience. He revealed his cancer diagnosis during his final SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show.
“Do not shed a tear," Baker calmly asked of his audience. “Give me a smile when you say my name."
He died a month later, Aug. 10, 2015, at the age of 74. But in these next weeks - especially as the sport celebrates Baker’s achievements on-track and off - there will indeed be not just smiles, but wide grins saying his name and remembering his great presence in the sport.
Hendrick Motorsports has extended its marketing and technical relationship with Microsoft Corp., which will continue as the Official Cloud Partner of the 12-time NASCAR Cup Series champions for the 2020 and 2021 racing seasons.
The agreement incorporates new promotional assets, notably the iconic Microsoft brand debuting as an associate sponsor on Hendrick Motorsports’ Nos. 48 and 88 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE teams competing in the Cup Series. In addition, Microsoft will continue to collaborate with Hendrick Motorsports on key technology projects including enhanced data analysis capabilities, a speech-to-text solution and race simulation upgrades.
“We’re excited to build on the success of our longstanding marketing and technology partnership with Hendrick Motorsports,” said Mike Downey, principal software engineer at Microsoft. “The organization, from the drivers to the race engineers, trusts in our innovative technology to give the team a competitive edge. As the sport evolves, we’ll continue to find new opportunities to promote our solutions and utilize Microsoft technology in the team’s quest for another championship.”
Hendrick Motorsports relies heavily on Microsoft technologies, including Azure cloud services, Windows 10 and Office 365, along with artificial intelligence and machine learning. Last year, the company fully transitioned to Microsoft Teams for chat, meetings, calling and collaboration. In addition, Hendrick Motorsports rolled out custom data tools developed via the partnership to analyze large amounts of data in real time and help guide decision-making during race events.
“Success on the racetrack is a product of having world-class people and the finest tools and technology,” said engineer Alba Colón, director of competition systems for Hendrick Motorsports. “In today’s environment, the data available is almost infinite, and we must make split-second decisions utilizing all the information at our disposal. Our partnership with Microsoft allows us to quickly analyze that data and make the best choices. The technology also lets us communicate and collaborate more efficiently and effectively. It’s a powerful relationship that we are proud to extend and build on.”
Hendrick Motorsports PR
The indications were there from that first green flag he took as a little boy growing up in small town Texas. Bobby Labonte was perhaps simply destined to be a winner, a champion. And on January 31, he will officially become a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Even from those early laps he turned trying out a quarter-midget on a short track near his family’s Corpus Christi home, the elementary-aged Labonte left no doubt about his competitive frame of mind or his talent behind the wheel. There was something special there. Unmistakable.
“When he first started out in quarter-midgets he was either going to wreck or win,’’ Labonte’s older brother Terry recalled with a slight chuckle. “He was wide open.
“He did good though. We had quarter-midgets and I remember the first time my dad made him go out and follow me and he wouldn’t even follow me. I was just going to show him the line, but no, he wanted to pass me.
“I knew from the start he was going to be competitive.’’
Competitive and Hall of Fame-worthy. As it turns out, all those years ago on that South Texas short track, Terry was actually watching and guiding a Hall of Famer in training…his brother.
Bobby Labonte, now 55, went on to become one of the most successful drivers of his generation, earning two national series championships - the Grand National (now NASCAR Xfinity Series) title in 1991 and answering that with the 2000 Cup Series championship. He was the first driver in NASCAR’s long and storied history to win both titles.
He also earned the prestigious 2001 IROC championship and was the first driver to win races in all three major NASCAR racing divisions – Cup (2002), Xfinity (1992) and the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series (2005) - at a single track (Martinsville, Va.).
In 1994, Bobby won a second Grand National title – this time as a team owner with driver David Green.
And now Bobby will formally join Terry, a two-time Cup Series champion, in the sport’s grand NASCAR Hall of Fame in two weeks. Labonte’s former Cup Series team owner Joe Gibbs and his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart will also be inducted in this Hall of Fame class of high achievement. Joining them are celebrated engine builder and crew chief Waddell Wilson and the late, hugely-popular driver-turned-broadcaster, Buddy Baker.
The Labonte brothers become only the second pair of siblings to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, joining Glen and Leonard Wood.
As with the Wood Brothers, the Labonte brothers have a celebrated history now marked with a rare and coveted Hall of Fame exclamation point.
While Bobby Labonte and his wife Kristin couldn’t be more genuinely honored or excited to attend the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction gala in Charlotte next month, he admittedly still gets a kick thinking of how he got the big news.
A year prior – Labonte’s first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, the couple got dressed up and attended the selection announcement at the Hall. However, Labonte’s name was not among the five chosen for the 2019 class.
So last spring, for his second year of eligibility, Labonte changed the vibe and opted not to attend the formal Hall of Fame announcement in downtown Charlotte. Instead he and Kristin went for a bike ride at the time the news was to be revealed. The two are avid riders and say it just felt like a good way to deal with the natural tension of a potential life-changing moment.
“We’re about halfway into our 20-mile ride and I see on my phone – which is connected through a little computer on my bike - the word ‘Congratulations’ as a text message,’’ Labonte vividly recalled. “Then all of a sudden, a phone call comes, then another, so we just had to stop on the road and answer the phone and the texts. And I called my mom and dad.
“They told me,’’ he continued with a hearty laugh. “‘You’re not the first to call.’’’
Labonte said the pride, the memories and the overall great sense of accomplishment he was able to share with family and friends that afternoon was palpable. After all, so much of his career was family-centric. When his brother Terry – eight years his senior - got a chance in NASCAR’s big leagues in the 1980s, the entire Labonte family relocated from Texas to North Carolina for support.
And it was there that Bobby Labonte really began to flourish, first working in the pits then as a competitor earning that first opportunity to immerse himself and his dreams in the NASCAR culture.
Both Labonte and his father Bob helped work on the Billy Hagan-owned NASCAR Cup Series team that Terry won his first Cup championship with in 1984. But two years later Terry Labonte left the Hagan team to drive for NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson - and his younger brother and father were let go from the team.
Instead of that being a major setback for Bobby Labonte, however, it really turned into a career send-off.
He and his father worked together to form and fund their own late model team and Labonte began turning heads as he raced throughout the Carolinas – earning a dominating 10 wins en route to the 1987 Caraway (N.C.) Speedway track title, which was a huge highlight of that time. With the prize money he began to earn, Labonte was able to fund occasional starts in the NASCAR Grand National series. And before long, his talent and determination turned humble mid-pack showings into championship caliber headlines.
Labonte soon began capitalizing on the increased opportunity and burgeoning confidence.
He fielded his own team fulltime in the Grand National Series winning the 1991 championship over another future NASCAR Hall of Famer, Jeff Gordon. The following year Labonte lost the series title to Joe Nemechek by a heart-breaking three points.
Labonte’s hard work and impressive results landed him a full-time job with the Bill Davis Racing Cup Series team in 1993. He earned his first career Cup Series pole (at Richmond, Va.) that fall and finished second to Gordon for the season’s Rookie of the Year honors.
In 1995, Labonte was hired by Joe Gibbs Racing to take over for Dale Jarrett in the famed No. 18 Interstate Batteries car. Labonte won his first Cup Series race that Memorial Day weekend in the series’ longest event, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
He finished runner-up to Jarrett in the 1999 Cup championship and then answered with a mega 265-point edge over the late seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt for the 2000 Cup title. Labonte finished eighth or better in the championship six times in a seven-year span between 1997 and 2003.
Labonte won 21 career races at 11 different tracks and 26 pole positions at 16 different tracks. Notably, his last pole position came in his home state at Texas Motor Speedway.
And he did it competing against a list of fellow Hall of Famers from iconic champions like Earnhardt, Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Bill Elliott to Gibbs teammate Tony Stewart and those undoubtedly future selections such as Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.
“The competition was tough,’’ Labonte said. “It really was in that era.’’
Of course, highest among that great list of legends that Labonte sparred with on-track will always be his brother Terry. They finished first and second in multiple races.
One of the most noteworthy races for them, however, was 1996 in the Atlanta Motor Speedway Cup season finale when Bobby won the race and Terry, who finished fifth, clinched his second Cup title. They celebrated with a victory lap around the track together.
“You can’t write it any better than that,’’ Terry Labonte said. “That was a pretty special day.
“Usually the last race of the year is the only time two people get to go to victory lane and to be able to do that with my brother was pretty special.’’
In many ways it was the only fitting way to celebrate a family that left such a bold mark on the sport. Some would find it intimidating to have an older sibling excel in the career you shared. But Bobby Labonte was inspired by it and learned from it. And he went on to earn his own stripes and celebratory hardware.
In two weeks, the sport and entire industry will honor Labonte’s impressive Hall of Fame-worthy accomplishments. And no one will be prouder than his family, who guided, cheered and took great pride in a career well spent and now again, duly celebrated.
“I think about how I watched my brother race since I was a kid,’’ Labonte said. “We always raced in different divisions growing up so I was always watching his racing, following him. Whatever he did, I was the little brother, I guarantee I was the nuisance brother. But I was always wanting to be like my brother.
“So for all this to have taken place with the NASCAR Hall of Fame, in my head, I’m thinking I got to be like my brother. That is cool and I never would have thought that would happen and it did.
“It’s so awesome for our parents. We were all like the steady boat over the high seas. Never drifted.’’
And now essentially, their family “port” is the NASCAR Hall of Fame - alongside the best of the best.
NASCAR Hall of Fame opens "Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions" with its first-ever guest curator, Dale Earnhardt Jr.15 Jan 2020 Written by Speedway Digest Staff
Since opening in 2010, the NASCAR Hall of Fame's signature exhibit, Glory Road, has served as a prominent focal point for guests and members alike. Every three years, the exhibit receives a makeover with a new theme and 18 new race cars. For the fourth generation of Glory Road, the NASCAR Hall of Fame partnered with Dale Earnhardt Jr. as its first-ever guest curator to create "Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions," featuring 18 premier series championship cars personally selected by Dale Jr.
“Having the chance to help choose the cars for the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s newest installment of Glory Road was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up," said Earnhardt. “Everyone knows how much I enjoy learning about the history of our sport and sharing that history with people, and with this, I’m able to play a small role in what we share with fans who visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I knew when Winston (Kelley) and his team first met with me that if I was able to pick the cars for the exhibit, I wanted it to focus on the champions of our sport. I felt like that was a no-brainer,” he continued. “I picked cars for this exhibit for many different reasons. But I definitely wanted to represent a broad history of the sport as a whole, so we could also see the progression of the cars. It’s really cool when they’re all there together and you can see all that’s changed in the technology from where we started to where we are today.”
Over the past 10 years, the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Glory Road has featured some of most recognizable race cars and drivers throughout the history of NASCAR. For the fourth generation of the exhibit, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Dale Jr. worked together to create a collection unlike any other, celebrating the champions and championship moments of the sport. “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions” showcases a lineup of cars that fans will recognize for their significance in some of the most memorable races and championship seasons in NASCAR, including the first and last championship cars from three seven-time champions, Jimmy Johnson, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. The 15 drivers represented on the new Glory Road have combined wins for 46 of 71 NASCAR premier series championships, 1,076 race wins, 770 poles and 14 out of the 15 drivers have already been inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
"We are excited to present some of NASCAR’s most iconic premier series championship cars from the eyes of one of our biggest fans and ambassadors, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.," said Winston Kelley, Executive Director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "I have always been inspired by Dale Jr.’s sincere interest in, and appreciation for, the history of our great sport. Having Dale guest curate one of our most recognizable exhibits following his days as a full-time driver has always been one of my personal goals. With so much from which to choose, selecting a theme, and narrowing that theme to 18 cars from a list of 75 – 100 available cars, is a very tough task. I know I can speak for my fellow NASCAR fans in thanking Dale for once again giving back to the sport he so dearly loves.”
The full list of "Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions" now on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame is below. For an in-depth look at the history of each individual car and its champion, fans can check out the NASCAR Hall of Fame's new podcast series available at nascarhall.com and on Spotify. View downloadable photos and Glory Road logo here.
Every three years since NASCAR Hall of Fame opened in 2010, there has been a new focus for Glory Road. The first-ever Glory Road was the exhibit's debut, the second featured generations of stock cars and the third called "Glory Road: Icons" introduced themed Glory Road exhibits. Glory Road displays the cars in race formation on a curved “track” representing the different levels of banking found where NASCAR’s national series competes, along with some of NASCAR’s historic tracks.
For more information about the NASCAR Hall of Fame, visit nascarhall.com.