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When Alex Labbe captured the checkered flag, a year ago, at Autodrome Chaudiere in Vallée-Jonction, Quebec, he earned what is his most memorable victory in his racing career.
He had just won a battle against another young driver and eventual 2016 NASCAR Pinty’s Champion, Cayden Lapcevich. A race that many observers called one of the best they had seen, and maybe the most thrilling battle for the win in the NASCAR Pinty’s history.
Add to that the fact that Labbe earned his very first win in the NASCAR Pinty’s series in front a crowd that was unanimously cheering on him, and you have there a great scenario for one of the best stories of the 2016 season.
For the 24-year-old driver, Autodrome Chaudiere is his home track, located 100 kilometers east of St-Albert (Quebec). Since 2008, he has raced — and won — many times in various series on this high-banked quarter-mile oval. Local fans have seen him grow at the same time his career has evolved. They saw him finish second to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Busch in a late-model invitational race. And they were there again when Labbe won that race, on 2016 Quebec National Holiday night.
“That was incredible. I couldn’t have chosen a better night to win my first victory in the NASCAR Pinty’s series. Family, friends, fans, they were all there. This race really was something special that probably happens once in a lifetime,” he remembered.
But being the hometown hero also comes with some pressure you have to deal with.
Each time he arrives at the track, Labbe is hoping for a strong outing, of course — that’s what every driver wants each time he is at the wheel of a race car.
“But when I come to Autodrome Chaudiere, I know I am the one to beat,” says Labbe.
And he is. In two races there, he earned two poles, a win and a runner-up finish.
Strong performances at preferred tracks are not singular to Labbe at Autodrome Chaudiere. GP3R has the Dumoulin brothers, and Delaware Speedway, DJ Kennington. There would be many more to enumerate. Local drivers often know the track more than any other driver they’ll fight with during that race, so they become a reference. And because these drivers are more experienced than anybody else, their family, friends, fans and sponsors have great expectations.
Labbe didn’t have these expectations when he earned his second victory, last weekend at Delaware Speedway.
“It was kind of a surprise. We were hoping for a good result, but we didn’t really expect to win there. Of course, a victory is what we all want. But let’s say the celebrations were not the same that they had been with all my family, friends and fans,” Labbe said.
A week from now, strong of his recent victory, Labbe will come back to Autodrome Chaudiere as the local hero. He wants to repeat the same story he wrote last year, with his new but experienced crew chief Mario Gosselin, born in nearby Ste-Marie. A second win in a row would place him in good position early in the season in the drivers’ championship.
Alex Labbe was all smiles after his win at his home track, autodrone Chaudiere, last June. Matthew Manor/NASCAR