Nice Guys Finish Fifth at Bristol, Continuing Petty Resurgence DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 29, 2006) -- Nice guy Bobby Labonte and nice guy Robbie Loomis are back. So is nice guy Todd Parrott. And don't forget nice guy Paul Andrews. They haven't...
Nice Guys Finish Fifth at Bristol, Continuing Petty Resurgence
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 29, 2006) -- Nice guy Bobby Labonte and nice guy Robbie Loomis are back. So is nice guy Todd Parrott. And don't forget nice guy Paul Andrews. They haven't been to victory lane yet, but "yet" is the key word. Don't be surprised when it happens.
Labonte finished fifth this past Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway in a car that carries a number synonymous with victory lane, No. 43. Ol' No. 43, in fact, holds the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series record for most trips to victory lane. Seven-time series champion Richard Petty won 200 races in the red-and-blue No. 43 during a career when both his name and number were renowned.
Labonte, Loomis and Parrott are committed to making the car -- the No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge in its current incarnation -- as competitive as it was in the "good old days."
And, based on the last two outings, progress is being made.
Labonte went to the front of the pack in Atlanta on March 20, which brought a tremendous roar of approval from the crowd before engine problems knocked the team out of contention.
At Bristol, where beating, banging and bumping are the rules rather than the exceptions, Labonte stayed in contention throughout the long, cold afternoon for a fifth-place finish.
And a fifth-place finish at Bristol is always good. In fact, just finishing, period, at the half-mile Roman Coliseum of a track is good.
It was Labonte's best finish yet for the Petty team and puts his name back in the mix with other former champions who are racing up front week in and week out, guys like Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch.
The talented trio -- driver Labonte, crew chief Parrott, executive vice president Loomis -- joined Petty Enterprises over the winter. They were welcomed by Andrews, who had come aboard early in 2005 as crew chief of the No. 45 Dodge driven by Kyle Petty.
Many longtime observers thought they had bitten off more than even they could chew, if they were expecting to return the Petty organization to the lofty heights of success it once enjoyed. However, those same observers might not know the passion this talented group has for getting back to the top of their chosen professions.
Labonte has always been a winner, capturing a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championship for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2000. He previously had won the 1991 NASCAR Busch Series title. Both Parrott (1999) and Loomis (2001) have NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion crew chief awards to their credit, not to mention Andrews, who helped guide Alan Kulwicki's legendary 1992 late-season charge to the championship.
The four dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists also share a passion and a loyalty for the Petty organization and want to make Petty Enterprises what it once was -- a championship contender.
Their "We Want To Win" attitude is obviously contagious when you watch members of the Petty team walking through the garage area with a little extra bounce in their step.
Labonte, who has been nearly three years without a victory, is anxious to get back on top, not to mention Parrott and Loomis. Both Parrott and Loomis got their starts in the sport at Petty Enterprises and have always had a feeling of loyalty toward Richard, his son Kyle and the entire Petty Family.
"I think we all knew that with Robbie and Bobby and Todd -- bringing those guys over, reconnecting with Paul Andrews and putting their heads together -- we would go somewhere," said Kyle Petty.
"We just hadn't been getting it done when we get to the race track. I think that's one of the things Robbie has brought to the table, a lot of the knowledge of how to get it done. That has also been one of the things Todd has brought to this team. I think Paul had been trying to hammer it in our heads and we just weren't listening.
"Now, he has some backup."
Labonte made a very strong case for Petty's "backup" statement with a statement of his own this past weekend, a fifth-place finish at Bristol.
Labonte's run jumped his team from 38th to 32nd in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car owner point standings. Kyle Petty's No. 45 Dodge is also inside the top 35 in points, which means the two-car team is assured of spots in the field this week at Martinsville Speedway, and does not have to qualify on speed like those outside the top 35.
"All the guys are stepping up," said Labonte, who is looking forward to this weekend's race on another short track, Martinsville, a flatter half-mile oval than Bristol. In fact, prior to this past Sunday Martinsville was the site of the last top-10 run for the 43; Jeff Green drove it to a seventh-place finish there in October 2004. The Martinsville spring race in 1999 was the last time the No. 43 pulled off a victory, back when John Andretti was a Petty driver.
If Sunday's Bristol finish is any indication of what's in store for this rejuvenated team, don't believe that old axiom that "Nice Guys Finish Last." These Nice Guys won't settle for that.