Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sprint Cup 2014: Race 15 -- Michigan: Who Will Be the Big Papa in the Shadow of the Motor City?

Bobby Labonte will not start in the #47. The 2000 series champion for Joe Gibbs racing, with 705 career starts, one less than Rusty Wallace, and 21 victories, 32nd on the all-time wins list has been all but invisible the last few seasons unless captured in one of the “big ones” where multiple cars get wiped out. He will continue racing having been enlisted to race in James Finch’s #51 Chevies, Finch speaking openly of closing down his shop perhaps after the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis late next month. Labonte has only two finishes in the top 20 in 2014, 15th in the Daytona 500 and 19th in Richmond.

Once one of the top drivers in the sport since 2004 when he won no races, Labonte’s career has been in a long downward spiral. He left Joe Gibbs racing in 2005 to energize Richard Petty’s enterprise at a t the King’s operation was in financial ruin. In 2006, Labonte scored 3 top 5’s and 8 top 10’s. Since that season, Labonte has only two top 5’s total, one in 2009 and another in 2011. Since 2007 with three top 10’s, he has typically only managed two top 10’s a season but none in 2010. Leaving Petty after 2007, Labonte has been little more than a journeyman driver, barely a cut above “start and park” entries, a convenience for underfunded teams whose available past champion provisional’s could assume him a starting spot.

Bobby Labonte was part of a crew of exciting drivers who moved from the then Busch series to Cup racing in the early 90’s along with Jeff Gordon, Jeff and Ward Burton, and Joe Nemechek, a crew of drivers to form the generation to succeed the likes of Bill Elliot, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, and Mark Martin. Ward Burton is gone. Nemechek is racing a little more this year in a very marginal capacity having been one of the originators of the shameful “start and park” fraud. Jeff Burton has struggled working with a premium team with Richard Childress but where he will be next year is uncertain. Even four time champ, Jeff Gordon, struggles to find himself positioned to win having struggled for two seasons.

It’s hard to imagine a resurgence for Bobby Labonte but surely he might be able to hang around for a paycheck for the foreseeable future with his champion provisional cache, clearly JTG Daugherty working with Michael Waltrip equipment is anxious to find the winning formula and is turning to A.J. Allmendinger for at least the next few races to see if they can find the right combinations.

The buzz from practice and qualifying is speed. Finally the Ford drivers are right in the mix of competition with Toyota perhaps taking a bit of a fall back. Certainly Jack Roush, a Michigan fellow, must feel some relief to see Carl Edwards in the 99 Ford on the pole (and second in the points) but this has been a very difficult season for Ford so far.

Meanwhile, much attention will focus on Dale Earnhardt Jr. who won last year’s race and enjoyed his last two races in the Wolverine State.

1 99 Carl Edwards Ford  Fastenal  202.4520
2 78 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Furniture Row/Sealy  201.8790
3 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Farmers Insurance  201.2130
4 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Menards/CertainTeed  200.8030
5 43 Aric Almirola Ford  Eckrich  200.7640
6 22 Joey Logano Ford  Shell Pennzoil  200.7250
7 33 Austin Dillon(i) Chevrolet American Ethanol  200.6300
8 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota Home Depot Husky  200.5680
9 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's  200.4570
10 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet Target  200.4450
11 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Express  200.4060
12 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet National Guard/Man of Steel  200.1000
13 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts  200.0500
14 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1  199.7890
15 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. # Ford  Zest  199.7610
16 2 Brad Keselowski Ford  Miller Lite  199.7500
17 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's  199.6890
18 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar  199.6560
19 16 Greg Biffle Ford  3M/Give Kids a Smile  199.3800
20 51 Bobby Labonte Chevrolet Phoenix Construction Services  199.3580
21 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Budweiser  199.2310
22 55 Mark Martin Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine  199.2140
23 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford  Stanley  198.6920
24 13 Casey Mears Ford  GEICO  198.5930
25 21 Trevor Bayne(i) Ford  Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center  198.4290
26 38 David Gilliland Ford  Long John Silver's  198.3640
27 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 5-hour Energy  198.2920
28 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet McDonald's  198.0800
29 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger  197.9220
30 98 Michael McDowell Ford  Phil Parsons Racing  197.2170
31 34 David Ragan Ford  Taco Bell  196.8130
32 47 AJ Allmendinger Toyota Charter  196.7910
33 83 David Reutimann Toyota Burger King/Dr.Pepper  196.2760
34 30 David Stremme Toyota Widow Wax  196.2660
35 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Quicken Loans  195.7370
36 7 Dave Blaney Chevrolet SANY  195.5140
37 10 Danica Patrick # Chevrolet GoDaddy  194.9000
38 35 Josh Wise(i) Ford  MDS Transport  193.9080
39 32 Ken Schrader Ford  Federated Auto Parts  193.0920
40 36 JJ Yeley Chevrolet (unsponsored) 192.9620
41 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Burger King/Dr.Pepper  192.8330
42 87 Joe Nemechek(i) Toyota Belle Tire  191.9900
43 19 Mike Bliss(i) Toyota Plinker Tactical  187.1490
44-DNQ 44 Scott Riggs (unsponsored) No Label  184.3930

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