Bobby Labonte still looking for first Daytona 500 victory

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Bobby Labonte: "I have come close to winning the Daytona 500 a time or two."

2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion driver Bobby Labonte seeks to capture his first-ever Daytona 500 victory at Daytona International Speedway.

The 21-time winner's career-best finish at the 2.5-mile tri-oval is second, which occurred twice in 1998 from pole position in the Daytona 500 and in the race later that season in October.

Collectively, he has six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes at Daytona. His best finish at the superspeedway with JTG Daugherty Racing is fourth in the 2011 Daytona 500.

Labonte finished 23rd in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings with two top-10 finishes.

Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 47 Kroger Toyota Camry:

What would it mean to add a Daytona 500 victory to your accolades? "It would be pretty special," Labonte said. "I have come close to winning the Daytona 500 a time or two.

Bobby Labonte, JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota
Bobby Labonte, JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

I finished second behind Dale Earnhardt Sr. and have had some really good runs. We were in contention a few years ago with the No. 47 Kroger Toyota Camry and I'm looking forward to being back at Daytona International Speedway.

Daytona is a type of track that when it comes down to the end, you don't know what could happen. To win the Daytona 500 for our sponsors and our manufacturer would be awesome. I've won some prestigious races.

To be able to sit back one day to reflect and be able to say that I've won the Brickyard 400, the Coca-Cola 600, the Southern 500, and now the Daytona 500 would be something else.

It would be so great to add to the other three big ones with a Daytona 500 win. It makes for a better story."

The Gen-6 marks the first platform revision in NASCAR’s premier series since 2007, what do you think about the new car heading into the 55th running of the Daytona 500? "After a few test sessions, I’m encouraged by a lot of the things," Labonte said.

"I feel good that there’s potential and a great possibility to make things better for the fans. The obvious goal of this whole thing is to improve racing and make competition better. For me, I’m excited about it.

I'm sure it will be different now than it will be in six months and change a little bit as far as it goes with setups and stuff like that. I hope the biggest thing for me is the cars being so equal that they’re not too equal to a certain point where you can still work on things and make a difference.

That’s probably the biggest thing. I feel like when I drive it, it feels like a normal thing. Until we get in race conditions, we won’t know for sure. We didn't really do drafting when we tested Daytona in January.

We'll be able to watch how things unfold during the Shootout (Sprint Unlimited). We'll also have a lot of practice sessions to give us an idea of what things may look like and I'm excited to see it. The cars drive good and we're hoping to have a good run."

Do you feel like you are light years ahead of where you were this time last year with preparation? “Absolutely, in my mind, our physical status at the shop is amazing from a year ago to now," Labonte said.

"Last year we didn't even test in January at Daytona. This year we did and we actually had a backup car with us when we tested, which I heard most teams didn’t have two cars prepared.

As I go through the shop, I see organization and I see the chassis ready for bodies. I see consistency and improvement in every area.

It’s exciting to me to see the difference between a year ago and today. We are still a single car team, but we’ve got a lot of support from Toyota and a lot of encouragement there.”

Brian Burns was your interim crew chief twice and is your full-time crew chief now. What are your thoughts on working with Burns? “I’ve worked with Brian (Burns, crew chief) now for a couple years now," Labonte said.

"He was at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) two years ago and then last year he was an engineer at our race shop and we kind of put him in the crew chief role halfway through last year.

Bobby Hutchens (competition director), myself and Tad (Geschickter, co-owner) and Brad (Daugherty, co-owner) were all encouraged by his capabilities to do that job.

As you throw somebody into the fire, that’s not the right way to do it, but it is a good test to see how they can handle it. We feel like he’s the one in our shop that knows the way the organization works and is definitely a top man for the position, but in the role of understanding it’s more permanent for him.

It’s the title that goes along with it, not just interim. Brian has a different outlook on it. Instead of knowing he has three jobs, he only has one job to do now or less of the other jobs and that is a positive for him.”

Brian Burns, crew chief for the No. 47 Kroger Toyota Camry quotes:

Talk about the qualifying format for the Daytona 500 and the team's strategy... "For the 150’s, your strategy will be a moving target," Burns said. "Your finishing strategy can go from aggressive to conservative based on the misfortune of others.

You will have to really stay on top of the entire scenario as it unfolds to determine the smartest moves to make and put yourself in the best position for making the Daytona 500.

"Before the 150-mile qualifying races start, only two cars are locked into the Daytona 500 from time trials on Sunday," Burns continued. "Anyone else can potentially miss out of the Daytona 500 if things don’t go their way.

The 150’s will be very exciting to watch. During the closing laps, there will be some risky moves from drivers that know they need to gain positions in order to make the race, which can really stir things up in a hurry."

Address the team's success at superspeedways and Bobby Labonte almost winning the Daytona 500 a few years ago... "We get very excited about speedway racing," Burns said.

"Daytona is one of the tracks that we know we can win at with the experience of a champion driver like Bobby Labonte. He is one of the smartest speedway drivers I’ve ever worked with in racing.

Bobby has a lot of patience and control to save his equipment and increase our chances of missing all of the early wrecks. But when it’s 'go time', like a light switch, he will push it to a whole new level of racing."

Have you and Bobby tried to figure out who you can team up with and what are the challenges of being a single car team at a superspeedway? "We feel like all of the changes that NASCAR has made to the rules with the 2013 Toyota Camry car offers more of an advantage to a single car team like ours," Burns said.

"I don’t expect to see a lot of tandem car drafting this year like there has been in the past few years. This should make for more exciting pack car racing with less likelihood of getting hung out to dry because you don’t have a partner to team up with."

Bobby Labonte said if he had to give one word to describe the team, it would be progress. Give an update on the team's progress... "We raised the bar towards the end of last season, and we are going to raise the bar to an even higher level for this year," Burns said.

"The morale level in our shop is at an all-time high, and we are going to surprise a lot of people this year. Since Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, we have added staffing and hired some very talented people at JTG Daugherty Racing.

We have also promoted some of our existing guys that stepped up last year to help improve our performance at the end of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. With the way things are going so far, I only expect it to get better and better every day."

Track: Daytona International Speedway
Event: Daytona 500
Date: Sunday, February 24, 2013
TV/Radio: FOX, MRN

Qualifying is Sunday, February 17 live on SPEED. Duel #1 and #2 takes place on Thursday, February 21 live on SPEED.

Bobby Labonte Career Starts: 690
Wins: 21
Top-five: 115
Top-10: 201
First Start: 06/03/1991 Dover
First Pole: 09/11/1993 Richmond
First Win: 05/28/1995 Charlotte
Last Pole: 04/04/2004 Texas
Last Win: 11/16/2003 Homestead (324 races since)
Driver DOB: 05/08/1964
Hometown: Corpus Christi, TX
Crew Chief: Brian Burns

JTG Daugherty Racing

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Previews
Tags daytona 500, labonte, nascar-cup, speedweek, toyota, unlimited