Bobby Labonte, an avid cyclist, was transported by ambulance and hospitalized with three broken ribs after a bicycling accident Wednesday morning. Not able to race at Atlanta this weekend, he will be replaced in the Phoenix Racing #51 Chevrolet by another veteran driver: Mike Bliss. An ironman of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, the injury may only be part of Labonte’s problems of missing races in the future.
Labonte had been the driver of the JTG Daugherty Racing #47 Toyota all season until being replaced in June at Michigan by 31 year old A.J. Allmendinger. The team was struggling, so the idea was to put another driver in the seat to get more feedback; thereupon, A.J. was slated to drive five races. As far as the streak of consecutive starts dating back over two decades was concerned, Labonte still made the Michigan race by driving the James Finch owned #51 – which he in-turn crashed, going out early in the event. Subsequently, two weeks later, Bobby was once again replaced by A.J. this time at Kentucky where Labonte’s streak of 704 races ended – the third longest streak in NASCAR history.
Rumors circulated during this silly season that the JTG Daugherty team might be making changes heading into 2014 and that one of those changes might include their driver Labonte. Now, the 49 year old 2000 NASCAR Cup champion’s driving situation has taken a turn for the worse when one of the team’s owners, Tad Geschickter, stated to Fox Sports that a full-time ride in the #47 was being offered to Allmendinger. A.J., who will be in the JTG Daugherty Toyota at Atlanta on Sunday, confirmed the offer last night (Wednesday).
To be fair, Labonte hasn’t necessarily been campaigning for this or any other ride for next year. Bobby has been driving the #47 full-time for the past three seasons after bouncing around between several teams for a couple years. Labonte started his career full-time with Bill Davis Racing in ’93 before settling in at Joe Gibbs Racing where he established himself as a champion, driving the #18 for 11 seasons. He was signed by Petty Enterprises in ’06, driving the #43 car for three years before he started moving around. Along with his championship, Labonte was runner-up to the title in ’99 and has 21 Cup wins with all his success while driving for Gibbs. Labonte has not been in the Top 10 in points since 2003.
Rising from ashes
Allmendinger’s rise to this point, after his career was all but obliterated, is quite the story. After being kicked out of NASCAR for failing a drug test last year, A.J. has done everything asked of him and now is in position to right his career. There may be other offers on the table including the #78 Chevrolet of Furniture Row Racing, #51 of Phoenix Racing (which is changing ownership) as well as open wheel possibilities in IndyCar where he has shown flashes of brilliance with a handful of rides driving for Roger Penske.
An interesting and odd side note in the rumor mill has Furniture Row switching from Chevrolet to Toyota while JTG Daugherty looks to switch from Toyota to Chevrolet. This is hearsay at this point – which is not unusual during silly season.
Could this be the end of Bobby Labonte career while catapulting A.J. Allmendinger back into NASCAR full-time?