Bobby Labonte quietly bowed out of full-time Sprint Cup Series competition at the tail end of the 2013 season.
No farewell retirement tour, no gifts. Certainly no ponies.
The 2000 premier series champion has selectively dabbled in the sport since, however, with a handful of unremarkable starts at Indianapolis and the restrictor-plate tracks, knowing the pack racing may be his last remaining shot at picking up his first — and likely final — Cup victory in more than a decade.
Labonte competed Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, his second of a scheduled four-race slate in 2016.
While not sure if this same type of deal will continue to be available to him in future years, the brother of NASCAR Hall of Famer, Terry Labonte, hinted at an interestingly hush-hush opportunity that could be coming down the pipeline later on this season.
“I do have a couple other possibilities I am excited about that might come to fruition later on in the year that I didn’t see coming around the corner but they are opportunities that might lead to something that I have been more excited about than anything I have done in my career,” Labonte said Friday at Talladega. “Racing is still a big passion of mine and I know I am not going to go do a lot of things I used to do but there are still some opportunities out there that are still up on my radar that I would like to do.”
But what does he have left to prove? What racing goals remain for the 2000 Winston Cup champ?
“That is a great question, too. Winning any race. It might be a bicycle race. Racing at the Sprint Cup level has gotten so intense that if you can’t do it every weekend … (Talladega) is different as we all know. Last weekend and next weekend is different than here,” Labonte said. “It is one of those things that I guess I kind of want to race more in a way but I don’t want to race more in some ways. I don’t want to do it every weekend but I know there are different series you can do that aren’t quite as strenuous as this.
“My brother told me one time after about two years of retirement, ‘You know, you will have a lot more friends later that you didn’t know you had.’ And that is true. I am enjoying that. As far as racing goes I am enjoying it and my opportunity is only four times right now through a little bit of what I want to do and a little bit from other people.”
One remaining goal is obvious: becoming NASCAR’s first Triple Crown winner by notching a championship at each of its three national series levels.
Labonte has the two arguably tougher feats down, winning the XFINITY Series (then Busch Grand National) title by 74 points over Kenny Wallace in 1991, then taking his first and only Sprint Cup Series (then Winston Cup) title by a wide, 265-point margin over Dale Earnhardt in 2000.
It’s a long shot, and Labonte admits that “everything has to line up right,” but he’s at least considered the prospect of running for a Camping World Truck Series title. He has 10 career starts in the series, with one win (2005 at Martinsville).
“It is absolutely something that we have talked about and met with some people about,” Labonte said. “I couldn’t just make it happen by snapping my fingers and we couldn’t quite get it all lined up. I definitely had it in my mind that it was something I really wanted to do. I would still entertain that but there is also a point where if you can chase the championship that is one thing, and you can do it in a lot of ways.
“When I started racing when I was little, the passion was to race and win and that is what you want to do. You want the chance to do that. We did it back then and I think the Truck Series is very appealing to me. I loved it when I did a few of them for a couple of guys and won a race and finished in the top five quite a bit. It is definitely a different level and the garage area is a lot calmer there than it is in the Sprint Cup Series and it kind of, at this point in time, is very appealing.”
It will be very interesting to see if Labonte can put a deal together with a championship team to try to make a run at the 2017 CWTS championship! If he could gather up a Truck Series championship that would surely put him into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for those accomplishments.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!