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Labonte welcomes new ride at Michigan

June 14, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Bobby Labonte

Will pilot the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet in the Quicken Loans 400

Related: Qualifying results | Full coverage from Michigan | Weekend schedule

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The phone call interrupted the interview, but when your team owner is on the other end of the line, it’s a good idea to stop what you’re doing.
 
The conversation was brief, but light as Bobby Labonte, having posted the 12th fastest time in the opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session at Michigan International Speedway, chatted with Phoenix Racing owner James Finch. A debrief via cell phone.
 
The 2000 NASCAR Cup champion and 1991 Nationwide champ, Labonte will be making his 705th Cup start in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at MIS. He will be driving the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet.

"If (JTG Daugherty) can be better a year from now without me … or two days from now, well … That’s all I know."

-- Bobby Labonte

Since 2011, Labonte, 49, has piloted the No. 47 entry for JTG Daugherty Racing. Team officials, however, said this past week that Labonte was being pulled for a handful of races in favor of AJ Allmendinger.
 
The move was reportedly made to give the single-car team additional feedback from a separate source. The organization debuted in 2009 with Marcos Ambrose behind the wheel. His 18th-place points finish that first season remains the high-water mark for the group.
 
Finch, upon hearing the news of Labonte’s situation, contacted Labonte and offered him a ride for the Michigan race. It’s not the first time the two have worked together -- Labonte drove 14 races for the team in 2010.

Labonte, who has 21 career Cup wins, is scheduled to return to the seat of the No. 47 for the June 23 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
 
“I’ve got a Clorox … lunch in Oakland next Thursday,” Labonte said. “What do you read into that? I’m going to Sonoma. I guess that means I’m going, right?"
 
Clorox is one of the primary sponsors for the JTG Daugherty team. Allmendinger’s limited schedule with the team includes those for which sponsorship is still being sought.
 
“That’s what I was told,” Labonte said. “Just do this for five races. That’s fine.”
 
One of the events, Watkins Glen, falls on the same weekend as the annual Sturgis (S.D.) motorcycle rally, a fact not missed by Labonte.
 
“Not saying I’m going,” he said. “It’s not what I want to do because I have a passion for what I do, or I wouldn’t have been here today.
 
“If (JTG Daugherty) can be better a year from now without me … or two days from now, well …
 
“That’s all I know. That’s what I was told. When you’re told that … that’s what you believe.”
 
Labonte won the 2000 Cup title while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. His ’91 Nationwide title came with his family-owned team.
 
He has won some of the sport’s most noteworthy events, including the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C., and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. He has three career wins at MIS.
 
“Here’s the funny thing,” Labonte said. “Monday was a bad day. I’m going up Interstate 85, going home and there’s a sign on the highway. It says Trinity, North Carolina, City of Vision. And the sign below it says 'Home of Bobby Labonte, 2000 Cup champion.'
 
“Well it rained all day. I’m driving home and somebody had mowed that sign down. I took a picture of it. I said, ‘you just think you’re having a bad day until somebody knocks down your sign. Then you know you’re having a bad day.’
 
“I had to laugh about it. That’s all you can do.”

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