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HMS Notes: Talladega

 

TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 24, 2004)—There are two more career milestones on the horizon for Terry Labonte as he heads into the second quarter of the 2004 season.

The June 13 Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway will mark his 600th race for Chevrolet.  The following month, the two-time Cup Series champion will start the 800th race of his career in the July 25 New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

TEAM 25 IMPROVING:
With a 13th-place effort on Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and a 12th-place result at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago, the No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports team has put together its best back-to-back finishes since May 2003 when it won at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway and finished 11th the following race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

During the course of the 500-lap event at Martinsville on Sunday, the No. 25 GMAC Financial Services team came back from a lap down not once, but twice en route to a 13th-place finish.

“I’m so proud of everyone on the team for not giving up,” said driver Brian Vickers.  “We lost a lap early, fought to get back on the lead lap and then lost another lap in the pits when there was a miscue during a pit stop.

“We realized we had a good car and kept working hard to get that second lap back.  Finally, late in the race, we did, and ended up with a decent finish.

“Nobody ever gave up and our efforts were rewarded.”

LABONTE LOOKING FOR ‘DEGA SPARK:
One year ago, the spring race at Talladega provided a spark for Labonte as he posted his first top-five finish of the season, igniting a surge that carried him into NASCAR’s Top 10.

The Corpus Christi, Texas, native is hoping for a similar scenario this time around as he heads into this weekend’s Aaron’s 499.

“We need a good finish to pull us back up in the point standings,” Labonte said.  “We were in the same boat a year ago, then finished fifth at Talladega, which gave us a big lift heading into the middle part of the season.”

Labonte is 23rd in the NEXTEL Cup standings with a best finish of 17th place through the first eight races.

Kellogg’s Racing will take a fresh chassis into Talladega this weekend—the fourth new car the team has rolled out this year.

“We had it in the wind tunnel and the numbers were excellent, so we think we’ve got something to work with,” Labonte said of his car.  “The races (at Talladega) are always a crapshoot—you have to be in the right place at the right time and if it works out, you’ll finish well.

“We’re overdue for a good weekend.”

VICKERS AT TALLADEGA:
In his only NASCAR Busch Series appearance at Talladega last season, Vickers, then 19, finished 23rd after being involved in a multi-car incident on Lap 9.

Vickers, the 2003 Busch Series champion, returned to the event after extensive repairs to complete the remaining laps.

Now in NEXTEL Cup, the Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate is looking forward to a successful Talladega return.

“I’m excited about Talladega because I enjoy superspeedway racing,” Vickers said.  “At the same time, I will admit that competing at places like Daytona (Fla.) and Talladega can be frustrating because of instances like what happened to us a couple times last year (in the Busch Series) and at Daytona this season.  It’s easy to be swept up in someone else’s accident that you had no part in causing—that’s the frustrating part.

“I look forward to running 195 mph, inches apart, door-to-door and three-wide for 500 miles.  You are on the edge of your seat and so are the fans.”

LABONTE AT ‘DEGA:
Labonte has two victories and three second-place finishes at Talladega’s mammoth facility, winning in 1989 and 1997.

Hendrick Motorsports has four wins at Talladega, most recently by Jeff Gordon in 2000.

‘25’ TESTING UPDATE:
GMAC Racing spent one day testing at Kentucky Speedway last week prior to the race at Martinsville.

Following the completion of Sunday’s event, the team traveled to Pennsylvania on Monday morning for two days of testing at Pocono Raceway in preparation for the June 13 NEXTEL Cup 200-lapper.

LABONTE AHEAD OF ’03:
Through the first eight races of the 2004 season, Labonte and Kellogg’s Racing are slightly ahead of their pace set a year ago when a late-season rally lifted them into NASCAR’s Top 10.

Last year, the team was 24th after eight events—448 points behind the leader.  This year, Labonte ranks 23rd—395 off the pace of first-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 231 behind 10th-ranked Kevin Harvick.

NEW CAR FOR VICKERS:
The No. 25 team will field a new car for this weekend’s 188-lap event at Talladega.

Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 2554 will make its race debut after being introduced by the team during testing at Daytona International Speedway in January.

STAYING POWER:
With 789 career starts to date, Labonte is fourth on NASCAR’s all-time list, behind only Richard Petty, Dave Marcis, Ricky Rudd and Darrell Waltrip.

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