JTG/Daugherty Racing recently made a temporary change that was unpopular in the eyes of fans. Removing former Sprint Cup Series champion, Bobby Labonte, in favor AJ Allmendinger. The move was intended to gain a new perspective on the team’s lack of performance.
Even though the team was adamant about the fact that, at least for this season, Labonte is their driver and no permanent changes were taking place at this time, fans still criticized the move. Probably the biggest cause of fans outrage was the fact that Labonte’s consecutive start streak would come to an end at Kentucky. It is noteworthy that Labonte said he had received offers from teams to start the race and keep the streak alive, but Labonte turned those offers down.
Fortunately, for Allmendinger, none of the anger seemed to be directed toward him. Allmendinger has faced plenty of adversity in the past year. Adversity that was ignited when he was suspended by NASCAR for violation of the organizations substance abuse policy. He was then subsequently fired from Penske Racing, where he drove the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge.
Allmendinger completed all procedures required of him by NASCAR, and has made a strong comeback into the sport. He capped off that comeback recently with a win in the Nationwide Series at Road America, again driving for Roger Penske. He also drove to a very respectable 7th place finish in the Indy 500 for the famed team owner.
Allmendinger commented on the situation Friday at Kentucky Speedway where he will make hie second start in the No.47 for the JTG/Daugherty team saying, “In this situation, if I’m saying the same thing Bobby is, and in a way I kind of am, you know that only helps what he’s been saying.” “A race car driver as a whole hates it, but you it can play where it helps the team, it helps the other person, it helps me, so I guess what makes it tough obviously, is Bobby’s role in NASCAR the last several years has been huge for this sport.” He continued, “All I can do is go out there and do my best job possible, I understand the people who aren’t happy with it, at the same point, I can’t control that, I can just control myself and just like life I try to live day to day.”
It seems that Allmendinger’s input has helped. In his first race with the team at Michigan he finished 19th, which tied for the second best finish of the season, Labonte scored a 19th place finish at Richmond. Only one time this season has the team had a better finish, a 15th place at Daytona in the season opener.
Allmendinger backed up the Michigan run by turning in the best qualifying effort of the season for the team at Kentucky. The team will take the green in 17th on Saturday night in the Quaker State 400. It is the first time the team will start better than 20th all year. The week after Michigan, Labonte was back in the car at Sonoma. He qualified 20th for that race, an effort he has only equaled one other time this season.
The impressive results are vindication for team owner Brad Daugherty, who has been accused of attempting to ruin Bobby’s career. The improvements shown after only two races indicate Daugherty made the right decision for his team.
It will be interesting to watch this team going forward. Hopefully, Labonte, who is a great ambassador for the sport, will reap the benefits of these tough business decisions.