Bobby Labonte wins NMPA Driver of the Year Award

Skip Barber -trained Bobby Labonte was on top of the world again, or near it, at the National Motorsports Press Association banquet when he received his NMPA Richard Petty Driver of the Year award. He won the honor after claiming his first...

Skip Barber -trained Bobby Labonte was on top of the world again, or near it, at the National Motorsports Press Association banquet when he received his NMPA Richard Petty Driver of the Year award. He won the honor after claiming his first series championship last season.

The Texan accepted his award in front of the membership of the press organization and then took a bit of time to look back on the season that gave him his first title.

"I think that Darlington was a turning point for me," Labonte recalled.

"Indy was big because we put the hammer down but I think Darlington was the one that hurt. We were in a backup car and everybody was thinking that they had a chance to gain on us. But when we (won the race) they had to be scratching their heads."

But the questions about 2000 are nearly complete as everyone looks ahead to 2001. Repeating a championship in any sport is never easy but Labonte and the No. 18 Interstate Batteries are trying to take a calm approach toward their quest.

"In reality we just have to be on top of everything. We can't take anything for granted," Labonte said. "I think we have to work twice as hard as we did last year. We just have to go out there and finish in the top-five and top-10 and the points will take care of themselves. People expect that because we're the champions. We're going to do well, but we could really go out there and screw it up if we don't work hard."

The reigning champ also knows that his pursuers aren't standing still.

"You look at the end of the year and [Skip Barber-trained] Jeff Gordon's team was running strong, and [Skip Barber-trained] Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt didn't look like they were slacking off," Labonte said.

- Andrew Torres

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Richard Petty , Skip Barber