Bobby Labonte is back where he started—driving for Ford Racing.
As the new driver for the No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing Ford Fusion for 2009, Labonte returns to the blue oval after a sterling career that has seen him win series championships in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series.
Some people may not remember, but Labonte’s first full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was 1993 when he drove for car owner Bill Davis, who was running Fords at that time.
Labonte made 30 starts that season with six top-10 finishes and one pole (Richmond) while ending up 19th in the point standings. He was runner-up in the rookie of the year standings to Jeff Gordon, but when Davis changed to Pontiacs in 1994, Labonte’s relationship with Ford came to an end—until now.
Labonte, who ran his first two Cup races in an Oldsmobile in ‘91, is entering his 17th full season in NASCAR’s top division and will be racing out of the same shop as Yates Racing teammate Paul Menard.
The two joined forces after it was announced in January that Yates Racing and Hall of Fame Racing were aligning their teams under the Ford umbrella. As a result, Ford now has three former Cup champions in its stable and five who have won a title in at least one of NASCAR’s top three divisions.
Labonte, who has seven top-10 points finishes in his career, claimed his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in ‘00 while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, a place where his career took off. He joined JGR in ‘95 and promptly won his first series race—the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Labonte won three times that season and ended up with 21 victories in 11 seasons with the organization before joining Petty Enterprises in ‘06.
In three years with the Petty organization, Labonte finished 21st in the point standings twice and 18th in ‘07 before the two mutually agreed to part ways in December.
Labonte enters the ‘09 season with 21 career victories and ranks 24th on the all-time series list for starts with 546. He is third among active full-time drivers this season in career starts behind Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip.
Besides his great individual accomplishments, Labonte and his older brother, Terry, are recognized as one of the great brother duos in NASCAR history. They are the first and only siblings to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship and have 43 combined victories (Terry, 22, and Bobby, 21).
Bobby Labonte is also part of a select group that has won at least one race in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions—completing that trifecta in ‘05 when he won the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville. In addition, Labonte won the IROC championship in ‘01 after winning two of the four races that season.
Labonte made a name for himself as an owner/driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in ‘91 when he won the championship by 74 points ahead of second-place Kenny Wallace. He won two times that season and has 10 NNS victories overall.
His path to NASCAR’s highest level was like many others. Labonte started working as a crew member for the team Terry was driving for in ‘84—Hagan Racing. He honed his driving skills at Carraway Speedway (Asheboro, NC) in the late model division and won the ‘87 track championship. That helped lay the groundwork for his entry into the NASCAR Nationwide Series in ‘90.
A Texas native, Bobby was inducted into that state’s Sports Hall of Fame in ‘01, along with Terry. He and his brother also had a park named in their honor that same year in their hometown of Corpus Christi.
When he’s not racing himself, Labonte can be found working at the Quarter Midget track he built in 2004 in North Carolina—the first such track in the state.
Labonte and his wife, Donna, have two children—Robert and Madison—and reside in Trinity, N.C.