After string of 704 starts ends, Bobby Labonte begins new streak Saturday at Daytona

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After seeing his ironman-like streak of 704 consecutive starts snapped when he was left without a ride for this past Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Kentucky, Bobby Labonte starts a new streak in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Labonte’s streak, which dated back to the start of the 1993 season – that’s 20 years! – was snapped when AJ Allmendinger replaced him in the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota Camry at Kentucky.

It was Allmendinger’s second appearance for JTGD; he also raced for the team at Michigan in mid-June. Allmendinger is slated to be behind the wheel of the No. 47 for up to five races for the team to give it essentially a second opinion – some might call it a fresh take – on how to improve the team’s cars.

Labonte managed to keep his streak going at Michigan when he jumped into the available seat of James Finch’s No. 51 Chevrolet. But there were no open rides to be had at Kentucky, and Labonte was left on the sidelines as nothing more than a mere spectator. Prior to Kentucky, Labonte had the second-longest streak of consecutive starts among active drivers: Jeff Gordon has 706 now.

After being as high as 14th in the season standings after the first two races of 2013, the 2000 Cup champion has slipped to 30th in the Cup rankings heading into Daytona.

But on the flip side, Daytona has been one of Labonte’s better tracks: he finished 15th there in this year’s season-opening Daytona 15. All told, Labonte’s career scorecard at the 2.5-mile high-banked track includes six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes, along with leading 70 laps over a span of 41 starts there.

His best year at Daytona came in 1998 while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. He not only won the pole for both Cup races there that season, he also finished second in both races, career bests for the veteran driver from Corpus Christi, Texas.

“It’s great to be back in the No. 47 Scott Products Toyota Camry at Daytona International Speedway after a weekend off,” Labonte said in a statement released by the team. “I am looking forward to racing at Daytona. I know we will not practice a lot. We will probably do a couple shake down runs and that’s all. We will not need much practice.”

Hamilton: Abu Dhabi ‘the last race with good-looking cars’ in F1

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Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.

Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.

Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.

“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.

“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”

Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.

“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.

“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”