NASCAR Cup Series News (17925)
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.
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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.
Pala also offers 10 restaurants and 40,000 square feet of meeting and convention space. Pala Casino Spa & Resort is an AAA Four-Diamond Award winner for 15 consecutive years.
NASCAR has adjusted the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series technical package for road courses and race tracks measuring 1.058-miles or less in an effort to improve racing on short tracks and road course circuits.
Eight of the sport’s most celebrated venues – from the Bristol half-miler and Phoenix mile to the Sonoma and Watkins Glen road courses – will feature a new look this season that includes a smaller spoiler (2.75 inches vs eight inches), smaller splitter (0.25-inch overhang vs. two inches) and radiator pan modifications.
The sanctioning body has, for years, been willing to adjust its technical rules in the spirit of competition and worked closely with teams in analyzing data that supports these new rules that are closer to the regulations of the 2018 season.
In 2018, for example, both races on the Bristol Motor Speedway high-banked half-mile were decided by less than a second; Kyle Busch’s .628-second win over Kyle Larson in the spring and Kurt Busch’s .367-second victory over Larson in the fall.
Joey Logano edged Denny Hamlin to the line by a scant .107-second for his fall Martinsville Speedway short track win in 2018 and both the 0.75-mile Richmond Raceway trophies were determined by less than a second: Kyle Busch’s .511-second victory over Chase Elliott in the spring and his .777-second win over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in the fall.
The modifications for the short tracks and road courses announced by NASCAR on Tuesday will be more reminiscent of the technical guidelines from 2018. NASCAR is confident this package designed for short tracks and road courses will produce the same compelling competition as seen on intermediate and larger tracks last season – which saw an increase in green flag passing for the lead in 23 races.
“Our goal has always been to provide the best possible racing for our fans, regardless of venue,’’ NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said in announcing the technical modification.
“The 2019 Cup Series race package delivered some of the most exciting races on intermediate and larger tracks that our sport has seen, however, we felt we could make improvements to short tracks and road courses.
“We believe we have found the right balance for 2020 that will allow teams to build off their previous knowledge of this package and showcase exciting side-by-side racing at tracks of all sizes.’’
The complete list of tracks affected by the new technical rules includes: Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, Dover International Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, Martinsville Speedway, Richmond Raceway, Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.
“We ended up in a really good place I think for short tracks and road courses in 2020,’’ O’Donnell said, adding, “I really applaud the teams for working together with us to going back to a package that we know works. The drivers had asked for that low downforce package as well at the short tracks. We’re going to see that.
“The fans have wanted that and asked for it and we’re going to deliver on those tracks that are outlined and think it will certainly make an impact on the racing and hopefully be a big improvement for 2020.’’
NASCAR unveiled rule changes on Tuesday in preparation for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. The rule changes include changes to downforce at road course and small short tracks one mile in length or shorter. NASCAR hopes that these changes will improve the on-track product going forward.
The changes include the rear spoiler, front splitter overhang and alterations to radiator pan. The new package will be used at six oval tracks and three road courses in 2020.
“When we consider changes to the aero package, we often can look back on our playbook, if you will, from seasons past,” Probst told NASCAR.com, NASCAR Senior Vice President, Innovation and Racing Development. “And there’s obviously some trade-offs that you make between introducing something completely new that the industry has never seen versus something that we have run before where we have a playbook from our side and (teams) have setup books from their end. We felt like we were going to look at aero packages that we have run in the past, and looking back at a lot of competitive metrics that we track, we feel like the 2017 levels of downforce on those types of tracks had pretty good side-by-side racing that our fans enjoyed.
Specs: (via NASCAR.com)
- A significantly smaller rear spoiler, which shrinks from an 8-inch height to 2.75 inches.
- The front splitter’s overhang will now measure a quarter-inch (down from 2 inches), with approximately 2-inch wings (reduced from 10.5 inches).
- Alterations to the radiator pan, removing its vertical fencing in an effort to reduce front-end downforce. The dimensions of the pan remain the same.
The six tracks that will see the new changes include Bristol, Dover, Martinsville, New Hampshire, Phoenix Raceway and Richmond. The three road course events include Charlotte Roval, Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
“Our first and foremost core goal is to deliver great racing, and I think that we constantly evaluate the things that we do on the race track, however and wherever we need to, to improve that situation for them,” said John Probst, “And as part of our normal ongoing critique of ourselves and how we’re doing, we just felt like this was a good opportunity for us to improve the on-track product at the short tracks and road courses.”
Florida-based Advent Health in conjunction with Chip Ganassi Racing announced Thursday in Daytona International Speedway’s famed Victory Lane that the company will sponsor Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet in two races – the Busch Clash at Daytona during Speedweeks and the fall Kansas Speedway event. The company will also sponsor a CGR-prepared car for Ross Chastain - in conjunction with Spire Motorsports - for the Feb. 16 season-opening Daytona 500 and also Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 in May.
In what has become typical Chastain style and popular with his fanbase, the Floridian – whose family farms watermelon – brought watermelons to the announcement to celebrate his big news at Daytona. And the front of his No. 77 Advent Health Chevrolet even has a watermelon slice on it.
Chastain finished 10th in his maiden Daytona 500 start last year and won the summer NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway. He has a long-standing relationship with the Ganassi team and said this new opportunity is truly a result of that.
“This group I’m coming down here with, we have a chance [to win] and I get to go through Speedweeks with as much confidence as I want,’’ Chastain said, noting that even coming to Daytona with a primary and back-up will seem like a luxury compared to his opportunities in the past.
“In the past superspeedway practice was three single-car runs and one drafting run, and pulling in,’’ Chastain added.
“This, this is what you dream of.’’
Larson has an established and successful relationship with Advent Health, winning the NASCAR All-Star race at Charlotte last year in his only start with the company on his No. 42 Chevrolet.
“I’m undefeated in the Advent Health car,’’ he said smiling. “It was really special to win that race and have Advent Health for the first time with me. ‘’
Larson is coming off his best championship showing in the NASCAR Cup Series – finishing sixth in the points standings, winning the second Dover race and advancing to the Round of 8 in the Playoffs; ultimately finishing sixth. His seventh-place finish in the 2019 Daytona 500 matched a career-best effort.
“Excited to get the NASCAR season going, we ended last year good and when you do that it really makes you excited for the next season,’’ Larson said, adding, “I do appreciate Daytona more each time I come back, just to see how big this venue is, how many race fans it draws.’’
Chastain will be competing fulltime in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driving the No. 10 Chevrolet Camaro for Kaulig Racing – the team he won the July, 2019, Daytona Xfinity race with. He is a development driver for Ganassi.
AdventHealth, one of the nation’s largest faith-based health systems, continues to expand its relationship with Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) by once again teaming up with Kyle Larson on the No. 42 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for two races during the 2020 season. AdventHealth is also teaming up with Florida-native Ross Chastain on the No. 77 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, prepared by CGR, in conjunction with Spire Motorsports, for starts at the DAYTONA 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Larson, CGR and AdventHealth have a history of winning. Previously, and quite memorably, Larson and AdventHealth partnered in 2019 for the All-Star Race weekend, where Larson won the Open race to transfer into and ultimately win the All-Star Race. AdventHealth will be on Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet for the Clash at Daytona, and later in the season when the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway for the Fall playoff race. AdventHealth has a significant business presence in both markets.
Florida-based AdventHealth will support Chastain, who continues to be a CGR development driver, in a Spire Motorsports entry as he makes his second career DAYTONA 500 start, following a 10th place finish in last year’s race. Chastain will also run the No. 77 AdventHealth Chevrolet in Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600, while juggling full-time duties in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2020.
With 50 hospitals in almost a dozen states, iconic racetracks like Daytona International Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, are all located in close proximity to an AdventHealth market.
In addition to the race team sponsorship, AdventHealth has been a Founding Partner of Daytona International Speedway since 2014. As the Official Healthcare Partner of Daytona International Speedway, AdventHealth cares for more than 1,000 patients each year on-site. In the event of an emergency, there are 11 AdventHealth ambulances, two care centers and nine first aid stations standing ready to care for drivers and fans alike. The AdventHealth injector– or gate entrance – at the Daytona Beach, Florida, track is a 20,000-plus-square-foot oasis. The hospital system’s injector features messages of health, well-being and wholeness, as well as interactive games that naturally tie the sport of racing to health and wellness, testing race fans’ hand-eye coordination – a vital skill on the racetrack.
NOTES OF INTEREST:
- Welcome Back: Partnering with CGR since 2016, AdventHealth has also had a presence on the No. 1 car, racing in last year’s Clash at Daytona with Jamie McMurray, and with Kurt Busch’s entry in last year’s Fall race at Kansas, in addition to sponsoring Larson’s All-Star Race winning ride.
- Feeling Whole, On and Off Track – AdventHealth continues to support the Human Innovation and Development Lab (HIDL) at CGR. The HIDL features tools, technology and unique training to improve the performance of CGR’s pit crews and drivers and help them prepare for upcoming races both mentally and physically. Headed by Josh Wise, both Larson and Chastain utilize the resources made available in the HIDL.
- David Banks, Chief Strategy Officer, AdventHealth: “We’ve been a proud supporter of Chip Ganassi Racing since 2016, and I’m really excited to further expand our winning partnership by teaming-up with both Kyle and Ross. This collaboration is something all of our employees across the nation can get excited about. We had a great run with Kyle last year and are excited about the 2020 season. In our first race on Kyle’s car, he not only raced his way into the NASCAR All-Star race, but also went on to win it! We are looking forward to continuing that momentum and success together in 2020. With our injector at the Daytona International Speedway, we’ve been able to engage with the hundreds of thousands of race fans that attend Speedweeks, but are beyond thrilled to have an AdventHealth car racing in the DAYTONA 500 for the first time ever. I can’t wait to watch Florida’s own “Melon Man” race on the track this year in our watermelon-themed AdventHealth Chevy.”
- Doug Duchardt, Chief Operating Officer, Chip Ganassi Racing: “We are thrilled to be continuing our partnership with AdventHealth for a fifth year. The partnership has generated some exciting moments on track, like Kyle’s All-Star win. Additionally, AdventHealth’s dedication to helping people feel whole has aided the growth of our drivers and pit crews off the track through the Human Innovation and Development Lab. We’re looking forward to another exciting year of the partnership.”
- Kyle Larson, Driver No. 42 AdventHealth Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: “It’s great to have AdventHealth back with the No. 42 team for some races in 2020. It was awesome to win with AdventHealth on our car at the All-Star Race, in their first race with the 42 team, and I hope we can have more exciting races with them this year. They have been a great partner, on and off the track, and I’m glad to see our relationship continue.”
- Ross Chastain, Driver No. 77 AdventHealth Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: “To have the opportunity to run the DAYTONA 500 is awesome, and it’s great to do it this year with AdventHealth on board my car. I’ve only had one start in the DAYTONA 500, and can’t wait to run that race again in what I know will be a competitive car. I’m also looking forward to racing the Coca-Cola 600. That’s another iconic race that all of us want to win.”