August 28, 2013 – By Chase Forbes, Stock Car Steel and Aluminum and SRI-Supplies
What About Labonte and Martin?
This week has been the ultimate week in the 2013-2014 Sprint Cup “silly season”, and it appears as though the biggest puzzle pieces are finding their spots. We learned that Kurt Busch will find a new ride at Stewart-Haas Racing, and – barring some crazy turn-of-events – Kyle Larson is expected to fill Juan Pablo Montoya’s #42 vacancy at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing.
That leaves one major seat left with an opening at Furniture Row Racing, and they have proven themselves to be a team that is capable of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup. There are three established drivers with highly reputable Cup experience left in the talent pool to take over the #78 Furniture Row ride: Ryan Newman, Bobby Labonte, and Mark Martin.
Martin has only expressed interest in doing a part-time schedule this year, and the single-car operation out of Denver, Colorado wants to go after a championships, much like they are doing this year with Kurt Busch. Martin, therefore, is not a likely candidate for the #78 ride, and Bobby Labonte’s last win came in 2003 at Homestead. It appears as though if Furniture Row wants to continue Kurt Busch’s momentum, the driver of the #78 in 2014 will likely be Ryan Newman.
However, the situation with the #47 team at JTG-Daugherty Racing is still unclear. JTG-Daugherty may choose to keep Labonte in that seat, but with AJ Allmendinger back in the NASCAR picture, they may sign AJ to take over Labonte’s ride for 2014. However, there is a possibility that we could see Newman in the #47, and who knows, maybe Martin will take over this seat as well. I predict, however, that AJ Allmendinger will be the main man behind the wheel at JTG next season.
Where does this leave Martin and Labonte, two of the best drivers in the 1990’s and early 2000’s?
That’s merely speculation for now, but here’s how I see it:
Mark Martin is easing out of his Sprint Cup career, and he’s only looking for a part-time schedule next year. The Wood Brothers can offer him this opportunity, and he can step into the #21 car at Wood Brothers Racing. Martin brings a lot of marketing value to the table, and with any sponsorship dollars coming along with him, the Wood Brothers can field a car much more than they have in 2013. Wouldn’t that be great, too, if Martin closed his career in a Roush-affiliated Ford? Meanwhile, he can mentor the young Trevor Bayne while the Wood Brothers give him a few races to run as well.
Bobby Labonte’s ride is a total mystery, but he could possibly end up running Cup races for his brother Terry, who has dabbled in team ownership with Stavola-Labonte racing in the recent past. There was a rumor that Terry Labonte was going to purchase the Finch Racing operation, but Harry Scott of Turner-Scott Motorsports ended up landing that deal. There has been no rumors about this, but Tommy Baldwin Racing would love to have a driver of Bobby Labonte’s stature in one of their cars, so that could be a fit at the Cup level. It would be cool to see Labonte get hooked-up with a highly-competitive Nationwide Series team, where he could contend for a championship.
Perhaps this is my nostalgic side coming out once again, but I would absolutely love to see Labonte and Martin land in good situations where they can run well and have many more years added to their careers.