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Labonte would consider Truck Series ride

November 09, 2013, David Caraviello,

Future plans still unclear for 2000 Sprint Cup Series champion

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Bobby Labonte is one of only two drivers to own championships on NASCAR's top two circuits. Should the right opportunity arise for next season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the veteran driver might be willing to make a run at the sport's triple crown.

Sunday's event at Phoenix International Raceway marks Labonte's final race in the No. 47 car of JTG Daugherty Racing, which will put 2014 driver AJ Allmendinger behind the wheel for next weekend's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 49-year-old Labonte hasn't yet announced any plans for next season, and admitted this weekend his phone hasn't rung as much as he'd hoped.

"It's not like it used to be … where there's a big shakeup in things. Nobody's really shaking up things. It's kind of a year where not a lot's happening," Labonte said. "You've got to kind of wait a little bit longer and see what happens, and something might not happen. I've got my ears open, and my phone's rang a little bit. But it's not like some new team is coming or, or some big change thing is going on, or people are doing this or that. Not being in the rumor mill is good in one way, but you wish you were a little bit more in another way."

Labonte has been a fixture at NASCAR's premier level since 1993, winning 21 races -- the most recent a decade ago -- as well as the 2000 championship. His preference, it seems, would be to remain in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season. But if an offer doesn't materialize, Labonte said he wouldn't dismiss a competitive ride in the Truck Series, which is the only title at NASCAR's national level the Texas native hasn't won.

"If an opportunity came here to race, I'd want to do that," he said, referring to the Sprint Cup Series. "If an opportunity came (in the Truck Series) to race for a championship, that would be awesome. Again, it's not easy. I'm not saying you're going to pop in and do it. But it would be great to have that opportunity. If that can happen, heck, I'd do it, I believe, just because of the fact that I've done this for 20 years."

Labonte won the Nationwide title in 1991, and is one of just two drivers -- along with Brad Keselowski, who claimed a Nationwide title in 2010 to go along with last year's Sprint Cup crown -- to earn championships in the sport's top two divisions. No one has swept all three, although former Truck Series and Nationwide Series champion Greg Biffle came closest when he finished as runner-up behind Tony Stewart at the sport's premier level in 2005.

The opportunity to claim all three national series titles seems to appeal to Labonte, as does the reduced Truck Series schedule.

"It's kind of one of those things where at this point in time, you know, a Truck Series deal would be really, really nice to run 22 races," he said. "That would be something that I might not have thought about three or four years ago, but today I'm like, you know, that’s probably not a bad thing. That would be exciting to see. But still have to wait a little bit on that as well."

Labonte has been in this situation before -- he found out in November of 2008 he would not drive the No. 43 car of Petty Enterprises the following season, and didn't ink a deal to drive the No. 96 of the defunct Hall of Fame Racing organization until mid-January of the following year. These days, though, he's a little older, and coming off a sometimes trying three-year stint with a JTG Daugherty that's struggled since separating itself from Michael Waltrip Racing prior to last season. Labonte came to Phoenix still seeking his first top-10 finish this year.

Labonte's situation comes amid Friday's revelation by another NASCAR veteran, Mark Martin, who said he likely won't race anymore after next weekend, instead shifting into an advisory role with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. While Labonte's Sprint Cup title might make him attractive to lesser-funded teams seeking to take advantage of his championship provisional, he said he wouldn't pounce on any offer just to get behind the wheel of a car.

"Just depends on the time and place. I really don’t know," Labonte said. "That's something I just have to think about hard. I'm pretty sure I'm not just going to jump up and down at every opportunity out there. At this point and time I think I can just sit back and relax and evaluate something. But heck, who knows. I also said I'd never own a race team, and I've been close a couple of times.

"You don't say never. But it would be nice to be able to race, and it would be nice to be able to win. Obviously it's kind of hard to do that these days. … If it's an opportunity where you can make a difference for somebody else, I like that challenge. It just depends on what it is."

JTG Daugherty put Allmendinger in the No. 47 car for a handful of races earlier this season in what was originally intended as a comparative measure, but a stretch of top-15 finishes earned the Californian the full-time ride for next year. Earlier this season, Labonte sat out the Sprint Cup event at Kentucky and saw his streak of 704 consecutive starts -- the third-longest ever behind Ricky Rudd and Jeff Gordon -- come to an end.

Now he's left to wonder if the end of Sunday's race at Phoenix will also mean the end of his Sprint Cup career.

"I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Hey it was all good, don't worry about it.' Because you do worry about it," Labonte said. "You want to do it. You don't want to say, 'If that's it, that's OK.' Because it's not OK. But it's also reality, too. You don't know. I don't know. I just don't know. I don't have a crystal ball, and I can't tell. But obviously if it was (the end), you'd be disappointed for a while, and I'm sure like everybody else has told me, you'll get over it. But we'll have to wait and see. You just don't know."


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