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Bobby Labonte’s Cup streak just part of storied career

INSIDE MOTORSPORTS

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Wednesday, Jun. 26, 2013

Many NASCAR fans and media will talk a lot this week about the end of Bobby Labonte’s streak of 704 consecutive Cup starts.

Instead, I think it far more relevant to focus on what he has done rather than what he isn’t doing this week.

Consecutive-start streaks are big deals in professional sports, generally because they serve as a reminder of an athlete’s success over an extended period of time and ability to perform in sports that subject their participants to the possibility of injury almost every day.

As much as some in NASCAR would like to believe, the same isn’t true in this sport. On the surface, Labonte’s career certainly is worthy of all accolades. It also is true in this sport, that simply starting a race doesn’t automatically translate into success (please see ‘start and parks’).

For that reason, it seems far more relevant to reflect on what Labonte has done rather than this one race in which he will not have the chance to compete.

Labonte and older brother Terry are the only siblings to have both won Cup titles.

Bobby Labonte also is the first driver to have won both the Cup championship (2000) and the title in what is known as the Nationwide Series (1991). He also won the International Race of Champions series in 2001.

He has 21 Cup wins and 26 poles over 22 years.

Before embarking on full-time career in NASCAR, Labonte was a legend on short tracks in North Carolina, racking up wins at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro and Concord Motorsports Park.

And during the course of his career, he has raised a wonderful family and is considered one of the true gentlemen of the sport.

No, Labonte will not race this weekend, but he will return to the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing team next week at Daytona.

I will choose to focus on what he is able to do then rather than what he isn’t doing now.

Notebook

Nationwide still negotiating with NASCAR: Nationwide Insurance has extended its exclusive negotiating window with NASCAR, giving the company through the end of the summer to determine whether it wishes to renew its title sponsorship, according to a report in the Sports Business Journal.

The original agreement gave Nationwide until the end of June to negotiate exclusively with NASCAR, but the company requested more time so it could take into consideration what TV network would be broadcasting series races.

Sources told the Observer that Fox Sports, perhaps in conjunction with its new Fox Sports 1 brand, which will debut this summer, might be making a play for some or all of the series’ TV rights. The series currently is aired entirely by ESPN/ABC.

ESPN/ABC has not yet started negotiations with NASCAR on extending its deal covering the series but is expected to by next month.

Asked if the network wanted to retain the rights, ESPN spokesman Andy Hall said, “We have a good relationship with NASCAR, it’s good programming for us and we’d like to continue.”

Nationwide became the series’ sponsor in 2008.

Returning to racing: Erin Crocker-Evernham, the first woman to win a feature in the World of Outlaws sprint car series, will make her debut in the Lucas Oil National Midget Series this weekend at Bloomington, Ind., and Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind.

Crocker’s win in the World of Outlaws feature at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, Calif., during 2004 became a springboard for her to drive stock cars in 27 NASCAR Truck and 10 starts in what has become the Nationwide series. She also competed in 25 Automobile Racing Club of America events from 2005 to 2007.

Crocker is married to former NASCAR crew chief and team owner Ray Evernham.

Dash 4 Cash qualifier is Friday night: Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at Kentucky will mark the return of the Dash 4 Cash program. The top-four finishing series regulars in the Feed the Children 300 will qualify to run the first leg of the program at Daytona and an opportunity to win $100,000.



Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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