A Labonte Homecoming
March 27, 2003 | 11:57 P.M. EST
Terry Labonte, who won the 1999 Texas event, will arrive at Texas Motor Speedway this week with one objective: To become the first Winston Cup Series driver to win twice at Texas Motor Speedway.
Some drivers have certain tracks they like and tracks where they get around well and Texas would be Terry’s. Over the past five years he currently leads all active drivers - with an exception to Jimmie Johnson, who has posted one finish of sixth - with a 7.6 average finish. Also, Labonte’s winning average speed of 144.276 mph in 1999, and qualifying speed of 192.137 mph set in 2000 still stands as the track record.
"I love the track," said Terry, who has Hendrick Motorsports’ one victory and one pole position in six years of racing at Texas Motor Speedway. "It's great to see all the loyal fans and I'll never forget winning the race in 1999 coming down the front stretch to the checkered flag, glancing up in the stands, and seeing everyone standing and waving anything they could get their hands on."
Since the inaugural NASCAR Winston Cup race at Texas in 1997, the purse, which at $3,802,255 was then the fourth largest in the series history, has steadily grown to the third largest purse of the season. The purse for Sunday’s Samsung/RadioShack 500 passed the $6 million mark, jumping to a record $6,047,759 in prize money - up more than $560,000 from the $5,487,422 awarded in 2002. Labonte’s $376,840 purse for winning in 1999 is still the largest of his career.
Last week Terry did some testing at Texas Motor Speedway in the Kellogg's/Got Milk? Chevrolet, and Sunday he will be driving the same car he drove to a 10th-place finish there last season.
"We were pleased with the session," said Labonte. "The speeds were down a little due to the asphalt ageing, but I think that'll make for better racing. And I'll have one of my favorite cars for the race. We ran it a bunch last year and it was our most reliable chassis, so I'd like nothing better than to get the fans back up on their feet again Sunday."
And then there’s his brother Bobby, who also has shown he can be a contender at the 1.5-mile quad-oval, posting three third-place finishes in the first four Texas races. But in 2001, Bobby’s luck ran out due to a blown motor and a 42nd place finish and then Labonte was forced to finish 30th in last season’s event following some damage to the front end of his Pontiac.
Heading into this weekend, Labonte is currently 8th in the points standings with one win (Atlanta) and has posted three top-five finishes. Texas also is the closet track to the offices of Labonte’s sponsor - Interstate Batteries, in nearby Dallas.
"We didn’t go test at Texas this year, but we feel pretty confident about the car and overall package we will have for that track," said Bobby. "We ought to I guess. We’re taking the same car we won Atlanta with so that makes me feel good already. I really like the track. We’ve had some success there, but the last couple of years we have been off our game. I am looking forward to seeing where we’re at when we go back."
"It’s similar to Atlanta in a lot of ways, but there are enough differences to where the set-ups are not exactly the same," added Labonte. "I love the sensation of speed you get there. Some tracks are fast like Daytona and Talladega, but since you are moving around in such big packs you often don’t realize what speed you’re going. At Texas and Atlanta, you know you’re pushing the envelope a little bit. I like that."
Both Labonte brothers will be looking for some redemption in their home state on Sunday. For Terry he would like to return to victory lane for the first time since the 1999 Texas race, and Bobby would love to be right up there contending for the win with his brother and put the memories of his last two Texas experience’s behind him.
Start time for Sunday's Samsung/Radio Shack 500 is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET. TV coverage of the race on FOX starts at 12:30 p.m., with radio coverage on PRN beginning at 12:30 p.m.