It’s been a tough year for Bobby Labonte and his crew members on the Toyota NASCAR racing team. A frustrating NASCAR Sprint Cup season saw a steady flow of setbacks and letdown finishes come the 2000 champion’s way – leaving Labonte out of the final Cup chase.
But, this wasn’t Labonte’s first dirt track scramble, so his Toyota crew kept turning wrenches while Labonte kept turning left in the No. 47 Toyota Camry. He pulled some top 10 finishes, including the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway came along – with Labonte pushing up to seventh after starting 23rd on the 1.058-mile oval. He also won the O’Reilly Auto Parts Award this season – with its $5,000 award – for being the eligible driver who improves the most positions from their starting position to their finish.
And, most recently, Labonte was able to announce a lineup of new sponsors, including Reese Towpower, to fund the 2011 close and the eventual 2012 push.
While he won’t put another Cup on his mantle this year, there are laps remaining this year and goals to chase next season after a little time away from the track. In between races, Labonte pulled up alongside CraveOnline to talk about his philosophies on racing and how he keeps it all on the road at home and behind the wheel.
CraveOnline: How do you feel about how the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series went for you overall?
Bobby Labonte: I’d have to give it a C+ or a B-. We set our expectations pretty high, and so we’ve had our disappointments. We had some good runs. We had some bad runs, and we’d like to even that out. The best part of was, week in and week out, we found ways to improve.
CraveOnline: You’re a member of the Toyota team with nine other drivers, including Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Casey Mears and Joey Logano. NASCAR presents the unique sports environment in which teammates also compete against each other. Overall, what is the interaction like between the team members?
Bobby Labonte: Though we all drive Toyotas, each team and each driver has their own way of doing things. But, you do see a lot of support going back and forth between the Toyota team members.
CraveOnline: While there are dust ups between drivers trading paint every year, but it seems that this year’s on-track conflicts between different drivers and different egos seemed nastier and more petty this year. How did you react to the conflicts during the season?
Bobby Labonte: This has been an issue before. It comes and goes. Some years less, some years more. Personally, I can get mad at things and yell – but I try to do it behind closed doors. I’ve always run with the attitude that if you race hard and you race clean, your opponent will do the same.
CraveOnline: Part of your level-headedness comes through because you’re no rookie. Since this isn’t your first barbecue, is it easier to handle the emotions – the ups, the downs and the adrenaline?
Bobby Labonte: My personality changed over a period of times. I could get hotter under the collar in years past than I do today. Or maybe I can get just as hot, but I just choose not to show it. In the end, I think you get to a point where you realize getting hot doesn’t accomplish for you as a professional.
CraveOnline: Do some of the younger drivers lack the ability to handle some of the pressures out there because they come up too early out of the dirt track circuits?
Bobby Labonte: Maybe. I think you can see the same thing happen sometimes in football or baseball where a younger guy comes up and hasn’t picked up the skills to handle the pressure yet. I think it all comes down to learning from your mistakes – something we’re still doing weekend to weekend here.
Photo credit – AP