Richmond II: Bobby Labonte preview

Labonte Joins 500 Club! -Becomes Only Seventh Active Driver to Reach 500 Starts -Will Be Youngest Active Driver to Have 500 Starts -Currently Has 497 Consecutive Starts Welcome to the club. This weekend, Bobby Labonte and the ...

Labonte Joins 500 Club!

-Becomes Only Seventh Active Driver to Reach 500 Starts
-Will Be Youngest Active Driver to Have 500 Starts
-Currently Has 497 Consecutive Starts

Welcome to the club. This weekend, Bobby Labonte and the #43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge Avenger team head to the .075-mile Richmond (Va.) International Raceway for Saturday night's Richmond 400. Saturday's race will be Labonte's 500th career start.

Labonte joins active drivers Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, Kyle Petty, Ricky Rudd and Michael Waltrip to have eclipsed 500 career starts (not counting Sterling Marlin or Ken Schrader). Labonte and Rudd are the only two drivers to have over 500 starts and have started every race this season. Labonte, 43, is also the youngest active driver to have 500 starts. This weekend's start will be Labonte's 498th consecutive Nextel Cup start. He is second on that list, only behind Jeff Gordon by one start.

Labonte and the Cheerios/Betty Crocker team head to Richmond having scored three consecutive top-15 finishes since Doug Randolph being appointed crew chief. The team has logged back-to-back top-10 finishes at Michigan and Bristol which followed an 11th place finish at California Speedway. Labonte is currently 17th in points and only 133 points out of 15th.

Labonte's will be making his 30th start at Richmond. He has scored 10 top-10's at the track and has finished in the top-five on four occasions. Labonte has two second-place finishes at Richmond which he logged in 1999 and 2003.

Comments from Labonte heading into this weekend's race at Richmond:

"I guess I started to think about being able to make 500 starts when I saw Terry (brother, Terry Labonte) do it. He did it, and I began thinking about it, and thought that was something that was very possible that could happen. I've been fortunate in my career, and it's pretty special to have this opportunity this weekend. Terry has over 800 starts and Kyle (teammate, Kyle Petty) has over 800 too. I'm going to try to catch them.

"There has been so much that has changed in the sport over the past 10 years that I've been racing in Nextel Cup. The competition is so tight now. There are so many competitive teams and drivers. It gets harder and harder to win races and you have to work harder to do so. That is one of the biggest changes that I've seen. There is always the pressure that you put on yourself, but it's so much greater that what is was when I first started. The drivers and teams are so good today. You have to be close to perfect to win.

"You can't do any of it without support from the people around you. On the track you need help from sponsors. I've been fortunate to have had and have so many great sponsors that have helped me reach this point. The list is pretty long. It's tough to name everyone that has been a part of helping me get to this point. I'm very thankful for everyone and for General Mills and their support for Petty Enterprises and this team. They have been great supporters of the Petty family and of the '43' for many years. It's an honor to drive this car right now, and we're trying hard to get it back to victory lane where it belongs.

            "You have to have a strong support system away from the
track too.  My family is a big part of my career.  They have been there
for all the ups and downs.  That has helped to keep the longevity.

"It's going to be an exciting time for everyone. It's a cool milestone to reach. You think about it and hope you can make it. It's here and it will pass. We'll then look at making 500 consecutive starts. After that, we'll look forward to the next milestone.

"Richmond is a good place for this come at. We knew it was going to be at Richmond and that was pretty exciting. It has become better because we feel pretty strong and confident about what we can do with our Avenger. Our Car of Tomorrow races have been pretty good. We feel like we have a pretty good grip on that.

"Our confidence is pretty high after the past few weeks. Doug (crew chief, Doug Randolph) has come in and raised the bar. The team is pretty strong right now. We have momentum and we're still riding that going into this weekend. We have momentum with the Avenger too. There are a lot of good things happening that we need to continue. We are building off them and feel pretty good about 500 this weekend. We hope it ends with the Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge in victory lane.

-credit: pe

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Kyle Petty , Ken Schrader , Sterling Marlin , Mark Martin