Vickers gets feel-good moment of the year

David Barr

Last week’s race at New Hampshire was filled with late-race drama. It was a fuel-mileage race that went into overtime and saw one driver run out of gas, thanks to the extra laps.

Congratulations to Brian Vickers on his win at the Magic Mile. That was Vickers’ first win since August of 2009 at Michigan and his first in 75 races although those races weren’t consecutive. Vickers missed the majority of the 2010 season with blood clots and it was wondered if he would survive, much less race again. He recovered, and he is now making the most of his chance at Michael Waltrip Racing in a part-time ride. That win on Sunday might have convinced sponsor Aaron’s to resign and have Vickers in the 55 permanently next year.

There isn’t a race this week, which means the drivers and crews get somewhat of a break from the monotonous traveling all over the country week in and week out. They better enjoy this off-week because they don’t get another break from here on out. They are traveling every week from next week to the Sunday before Thanksgiving when the season wraps up in Homestead-Miami. Because there is no race this week, I’m going to change it up a little this week. A few weeks ago, one of the longest streaks of consecutive starts in NASCAR ended at Kentucky. Bobby Labonte was held out of the JTG Daugherty #47 Toyota, ending his streak of consecutive starts at 704. That streak started with the 1993 Daytona 500 and was one race behind Jeff Gordon, whose own streak stretches back to the 1992 season finale in Atlanta. In that time, Labonte won 21 races, and gave Joe Gibbs his first championship by winning the 2000 Sprint Cup championship. He left Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) after the 2005 season and went to drive for Petty Enterprises from 2006-2008 with a best finish of 3rd at the Subway 500 at Martinsville in October 2006. From 2009 on he bounced around with several lower-tier teams. It’s a shame that someone of Labonte’s caliber and record couldn’t get signed with a top-tier team when he left JGR in 2005.

With NASCAR opening its Hall of Fame a few years ago, and the fact that Labonte’s career is nearly over, the question has to be asked: Is Bobby Labonte Hall of Fame-worthy? I believe he is. He has won 21 races during his career and you don’t win that many races in NASCAR’s top series by not being good. Of those 21 wins, three have come in some of NASCAR’s biggest races, the Coca-Cola 600 (his first career win in 1995), the Brickyard 400 (2000) and the Mountain Dew Southern 500 (2000) and he won the 2000 Sprint Cup Championship. Labonte has won on all types of racetracks, from the paperclip-shaped short track Martinsville Speedway to the intermediate tracks like Atlanta and Dover to the superspeedways of Talladega and Pocono. Given the number of races he has won and the fact that he is a past Cup champion, that should be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. An interesting fact is that the race at Kentucky was the first time since 1978 that a driver named Labonte was not in the field. Bobby’s older brother Terry made his debut at Darlington in 1978 and started his own personal streak in January of 1979, which ended in August of 2000. Ricky Rudd overtook Terry’s consecutive start record in 2002 and now holds the record for most consecutive starts with 788.

Don’t forget that after the break, ESPN takes over coverage of the Sprint Cup series starting at Indianapolis.

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