Bobby Labonte on Euro Series: “They see the promise of NASCAR”
Although he’s already won two NASCAR national series titles, the 2000 Cup Series champion is ready for a new challenge with the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.
Fans might have noticed Bobby Labonte recently on television working as an in-studio analyst for Fox Sports 1 and figured the 2000 NASCAR Cup Series champion is happy in retirement, but Labonte has let everyone know he’s ready for more.
NASCAR and Labonte made it official Monday that he’ll become the first American NASCAR champion to compete full-time in the European-based series this season.
“This opportunity came about over the offseason and we were able to work out all the details so I could compete this season in all the races,” said Labonte. “Jerome and his wife Anne (Galpin) and I first talked about this last year after I did the one race weekend with them last year.
“I've always kept in touch with Jerome and Anne trying to get things worked out to where I could go over there again, not necessarily for the whole year. It just turned out that making one trip is great, but we were able to put together the program. It's six weekends, 12 races. It's not like 12 weekends. So the schedule is accommodating.”
Promoting the series with star power
Labonte joined other NASCAR drivers such as Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ben Kennedy, Max Papis and Brandon Gdovic who’ve recorded a start with the series that has been NASCAR-sanctioned since 2012.
“I look forward to working with Jerome, Anne and everyone with the series to help raise awareness and keep the series growing,” said Labonte. “It’s going to be fun going to venues I’ve never raced before and it’s always fun to get to race.”
The 21-time Cup Series race winner wants wants to help the series grow but also looks forward to the challenge.
“They (drivers) are very serious about their racing over there so it’s going to be competitive,” said Labonte. “I loved meeting so many people with diverse backgrounds (last season) and I hope to meet more this year and help create some excitement for the series (in Europe).”
Labonte added the series has grown in the two years he’s been in contact with Galpin and only sees it continuing to grow in popularity throughout Europe.
“Jerome and Anne are so dedicated to the series its success is very personal for them in trying to make it better and make things happen,” said Labonte. “They see the promise of NASCAR (growth) in Europe and timing a lot of times is everything.”
Helping to build bridges
Labonte is hoping the timing is right for him to contend for a championship and also be an ambassador of sorts for NASCAR.
“To be able just to relate that message back and forth to people over here, get people interested, sponsors, drivers interested from here,” said Labonte. “Then over there especially because there's so many opportunities, people over there in Europe can come over here and try their hand in racing, whether it's in the local NASCAR short tracks, the K&N Series, whether on the East Coast or West Coast.
“I think there's going to be a lot of fun involved.”
Labonte will make his first start as a full-time competitor this weekend in Valencia, Spain, however, he won’t be the only American in the field as NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitor Jennifer Jo Cobb will make her debut this weekend as well.
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