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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Alex Labbe has always shown the ability to go fast. Quickly.
Whether it was a go-kart, the American Canadian Tour, or the NASCAR Pinty's Series, the St. Albert, Quebec, driver hasn't wasted any time getting acclimated to the next level and being successful. In 2017, he showed it was no different when it came to Canada's national stock car championship.
In just his second full-time season in the Pinty's Series, Labbe took home his first NASCAR championship.
On the strength of five wins, 11 top fives and 12 top 10s, Labbe bested provencial rival Kevin Lacroix 16 points in the final tally.
"We just got every single point we could get all season long and that made a huge difference when it came time for the championship," Labbe said. "Last year, we knew we had a lot of speed on the oval's and we were really good on the road courses as well. We were always at the top in practice and qualified well, we had a lot of speed, but we couldn't seal the deal and be there at the end of the race. We had a lot of bad luck."
After a fifth-place finish to start the season at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park this year, Labbe rolled to Victory Lane at Ontario's Delaware Speedway. After a run of three straight top-five finishes, Labbe won for a second time at Wyant Group Raceway in Saskatoon.
"This year, we changed a couple of elements and my crew chief (Mario Gosselin) has always been really close to me," Labbe said. "Everything I learned from short-track racing has been through him, he was pretty much my mentor. He's a real tough racer and he doesn't give up -- just like I do. The guys back at the shop stepped up as well -- we had really good cars when we unloaded and we didn't have mechanical failures."
Following that, Labbe won three of the next six races and put himself in position to clinch the championship by just starting the season-finale at Jukasa Motor Speedway. Luckily for him, he entered the finale just needing to take the green flag, because he wasn't running at the finish. A suspension failure sidelined him on lap 62.
"We completed all the laps until Jukasa when we cut a tire and hit the wall, so this was really a team effort this year," Labbe said. "We always got better and better during the race. We really worked a lot together. We got better during the race and the pit stops, which really makes it a group effort."
The emotions of the finale at Jukasa went from the low of ending the race on the sidelines right to the glory of celebrating the championship.
"It's kinda of shame, we unloaded that car and we had raced it once before and almost lapped the field, we were really looking forward to Jukasa. We qualified outside pole and we had a right-front go down and it bent the whole suspension. It was kind of sour -- we knew we could have won the race, but we had the championship, so it was bittersweet for all of us," Labbe said. "Our worst finish before that race was sixth place. Even though we won the championship, we knew we could have gotten at least a top five, maybe even another win."
His battle with Lacroix went right to the final laps of the season. Both drivers combined to win nine of the 13 series events in 2017 and both had an average finish under five.
"It was a tough battle, everyone knows he is a really good road racer, he has really good speed on the ovals and he has a great team behind him," Labbe said of his closest challenger. "He always had a lot of speed early, but I think we managed our stuff better and we were a little bit better there at the end of the races. It wasn't easy -- but we just never gave up. We got everything we could get and we had a lot of tough battles."
Going forward to next season, Labbe hopes to once again moving up the racing ladder. The 24-year-old is hoping to run full-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, where he has three career starts.
But, for now, he is just soaking up the glory of being able to call himself a NASCAR champion.
"The whole thing was really special, I got to spend some time with the other champions down in Charlotte," Labbe said. "It's something I have been dreaming of all my life, since the first time I raced stock cars, I wanted to be a NASCAR champion. This is a pretty big accomplishment for sure."
Labbe was honored, along with the rest of the champions, at the NASCAR Home Tracks Awards Ceremony on Dec. 9 at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Alex Labbe piled up 11 top fives in 13 races - including five wins - and an average finish of 4.2 as he rolled to the 2017 NASCAR Pinty's Series championship. Matthew Manor/NASCAR