Bobby Labonte, the 2000 NASCAR Winston and now-Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, is coming out of retirement to compete in Europe as the driver of the No. 18 Yacco Toyota for RDV Competition in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. He plans to compete full-time in the series, with the season-opener April 14-15 in Valencia, Spain, to battle for the Euro Series championship.
Labonte already has one Euro Series race under his belt, making his debut last year at Brands Hatch in the U.K. He finished the race 10th and made history as the first NASCAR American series champion to compete in a Whelen Euro Series race.
“Joining the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series is a great opportunity,” Labonte said in a press release issued by NASCAR Monday. “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.”
Labonte raced full-time in NASCAR’s top series from 1993-2013, with 11 of those seasons as driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing entry from 1995 through the 2005 season. During his time at JGR, Labonte won 21 races in addition to his premier-series title. In all, Labonte made 729-career starts at NASCAR’s top level, last racing in the series at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama in 2016 for car owner Archie St. Hillaire. In his three seasons, Labonte raced primarily at NASCAR’s restrictor-plate tracks of Talladega and Daytona International Speedway.
“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 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series President and CEO Jerome Galpin in the press release. “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.”
Labonte won’t be the only NASCAR driver from America in this weekend’s Euro Series opener at Valencia. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Jennifer Jo Cobb plans to make her Euro Series debut as driver of the No. 10 Racing Total Chevrolet in the ELITE 2 division while the Truck Series takes some extended time off. She's not racing again until early May.
“I have always wanted to be part of NASCAR on an international level, and the fact that the Euro series exists is amazing,” Cobb said in a press release from the Whelen Euro Series. ”I am glad that NASCAR is expanding to so many other countries outside of the U.S., and I hope that we see more drivers from around the world in our series in the U.S. and that more of our drivers get these great opportunities.”