CHAMPCAR/CART: Labonte wins Driver Of The Year honors

Bobby Labonte, who parlayed consistency and four victories into the Winston Cup Championship, added another honor today as he was selected DRIVER OF THE YEAR for all American motorsports. Labonte, 36, driver of the Joe Gibbs/Interstate...

Bobby Labonte, who parlayed consistency and four victories into the Winston Cup Championship, added another honor today as he was selected DRIVER OF THE YEAR for all American motorsports.

Labonte, 36, driver of the Joe Gibbs/Interstate Batteries Pontiac on the NASCAR/Winston Cup tour, gathered seven votes from a panel of 16 motorsports media to win the most prestigious award in motorsports.

A brief field of who's who in American motorsports was strung out behind the Corpus Christi, Texas native.

The World of Outlaws Steve Kinser and NHRA Funny Car drag racer John Force each received three first-place nods, while CART's Juan Montoya had two and that sanctioning body champion, Gil de Ferran, had one.

Labonte also carried the fan vote, which was featured for the first time on ESPN.com. Running a very close second was NHRA's Funny Car Champion John Force.

While winning four races Labonte led the Winston Cup points from the California race on and had 18 top fives and 23 top tens while clinching the championship at the Homestead-Miami race with still one event to go.

"Winning DRIVER OF THE YEAR is certainly an honor, especially when you look back at the great drivers who have been selected, " Labonte says.

"This wouldn't have been possible however, without Joe Gibbs Racing and its 127 employees and especially crew chief Jimmy Makar and Interstate Batteries and their support."

Labonte was asked for the key race of the year, "I guess I would say Darlington (was pivotal) because we were just kind of cruising along there, " Labonte says.

"We hadn't run but a couple of laps in practice when we had that crash. Talk about going from one extreme to the other in a matter of seconds...we thought we were pretty good to disaster to starting over again and working our way back up and winning the race. I thought that was just awesome."

No overview of DRIVER OF THE YEAR would be complete without a word from Labonte team owner Joe Gibbs on the season.

Here's what he says: "During my last (of three) Super Bowls I was standing next to Charles Manning and he said that the fun was getting there. When I think back the similarity is so close between this and football. It's the best people in the world trying to do something," Gibbs says.

"Over here it took nine years. In football I think we went to three Super Bowls in nine years. It's very hard and you have to have a group of dedicated people. You have to have great pit stops, office people, shop people and engineering, etc.

"What I think is so great about this sport is that you can't buy it. It's chemistry."

While Labonte didn't win a quarterly vote - those went to Mark Martin, Juan Montoya, Rusty Wallace and Tony Stewart - his consistency paid off with the DRIVER OF THE YEAR HONOR.

Labonte follows 1999 Winston Cup Champion Dale Jarrett as DRIVER OF THE YEAR.

Labonte will be feted at a luncheon at New York's swank Le Cirque on December 9th, then will be formally honored at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductions at Talladega in April.

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Series INDYCAR , GENERAL , NASCAR-CUP , NHRA , WOO