By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Defending NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion Alon Day may have some stiff competition this season as former multi-series NASCAR champion Bobby Labonte will look to add a Whelen Euro Series championship to his illustrious accolades this season.
The announcement was made by RDV Competition Monday as the Corpus Christi, Texas native will compete full-time, piloting the Yacco sponsored No. 18 Toyota.
With the announcement of Camping World Truck Series driver Jennifer Jo Cobb running at the weekend opener at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain last Friday, Labonte becomes the second American driver to get a crack at NASCAR’s top European division.
After going to Brands Hatch in Kent, England, Labonte was impressed by the competition from the series who’ll kickstart its 10th season April 14th.
“Joining the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series is a great opportunity,” said Labonte. “At the Brands Hatch race last year, I was definitely impressed by the competitiveness of the series. The testing we did with Fredric Gabillon last fall and putting this together with Franck Violas and the RDV team gives me a great advantage. Having the opportunity to represent Yacco as a sponsor on a global level just adds to the excitement, and I look forward to all the growth and new opportunities this could bring.”
Whelen Euro Series President and CEO Jerome Galpin said Labonte running for a championship is expected to bring mass appeal to the series.
“It is a huge milestone for the Whelen Euro Series to welcome an American champion of Bobby’s caliber to contend for the title,” said Galpin. “This is another sign of the international appeal the series has delivered. We are proud to have a strong international lineup of 30 drivers and teams.”
NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief International Officer Jim Cassidy added to Labonte’s asset to the sport.
“Bobby Labonte is one of the greatest champions in NASCAR history, and his participation in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series is a huge win for fans and competitors alike,” said Cassidy “Labonte’s full-time involvement gives American fans an even stronger connection to the series, while offering our European fans a close look at one of NASCAR’s greats.”
Labonte will have company at RDV, becoming teammates with two-time series runner-up Frederic Gabillon and 20-year-old Ulysse Delsaux, both from France.
The Hall of Fame nominee hasn’t run a sanctioned NASCAR race since the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2016, where he finished 31st. He’s been a full-time analyst for Fox Sports’ NASCAR Race Day and Race Hub since last year.
Labonte is one of four drivers to win championships in both Xfinity and Cup. Driving for his family operated team in 1991, Labonte won the Xfinity Series championship over Kenny Wallace after scoring two wins and finished in the top-10 in 21 of 31 races.
Nine years later, consistency was the word as an average finish of 7.4 helped Labonte beat Dale Earnhardt, and gave Joe Gibbs Racing its first Cup title. Highlights of that season included two victories in NASCAR’s crown jewel events, the Brickyard 400 and Southern 500.
In 2005, Labonte became the 12th driver to win in all three national series after capturing his only Truck Series win at Martinsville Speedway. Two years later, Labonte captured his most recent NASCAR win at Talladega, eking out Tony Stewart for his 10th and final Xfinity Series win.
The weekend opener at Valencia will have four sprint races, and it’ll stream live on FanChoice.tv, starting at 8:30 a.m. EST on Saturday, followed by second day coverage at 6 a.m. EST on Sunday.