Driver AJ Allmendinger, shown at Belle Isle in Detroit in this May 31 file photo, will drive a Sprint Cup car for JTG Daugherty Racing next week at Michigan International Speedway. (AP Photo)
LONG POND, Pa. — AJ Allmendinger will replace Bobby Labonte next week at Michigan International Speedway for JTG Daugherty Racing.
Allmendinger could drive even more Sprint Cup races for the struggling race team. Labonte, the 2000 Cup champion, is 28th in the Sprint Cup points standings and hasn’t finished better than 15th in a race.
With the team scuffling along, JTG Daugherty Racing decided it was time for a change in the No. 47 Toyota.
“We’ve kind of gone backward the last three years,” co-owner Brad Daugherty said by phone. “We can’t exactly put a finger on it without being able to benchmark it against a second team. It’s really hard. He’s available, so we thought we’d stick him in there to see if he has a different perspective on what we’re doing and what we’re not doing.”
Allmendinger will likely also race for JTG-Daugherty at Watkins Glen and at three other tracks where the team was currently lacking major sponsorship. Allmendinger has driven a limited NASCAR schedule since being suspended for a failed drug test last year. Roger Penske fired him but gave him another chance in IndyCar. He’s set to drive in two NASCAR Nationwide Series races this season for Penske Racing.
“I have raced for Phoenix Racing some this year and feel confident I’ll be able to provide JTG Daugherty Racing with a good comparison,” Allmendinger said. “I’m thankful for this opportunity to work with the team and Bobby.”
Daugherty said the team hasn’t given up on Labonte.
“Hopefully, this will help Bobby moving forward,” Daugherty said. “We’re putting Bobby back in the car. This isn’t an unseating of Bobby Labonte. We just want to figure out why we’re struggling so badly. We believe he’s going to embrace it. He’s a competitor like anybody else. He doesn’t want to get out of the race. But it’s the best thing for the team.”
Labonte was 29th in the points standings in his first year with the team in 2011 and 23rd last year. He has 21 wins in 703 career cup starts. He’ll make his 702nd consecutive start Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
But it’s not enough to keep a full-time ride.
“We think we’re building better race cars,” Daugherty said. “We’ve got to get stronger in the engine department. We’re behind.”