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Labonte to Make Final Darlington Start

  • May 12, 2006

DARLINGTON, S.C. (May 12, 2006) – If Terry Labonte’s life were made into a movie, this weekend’s race at Darlington Raceway would be the last of the 49-year-old’s career—Darlington, of course, being the track where he made his first Cup Series start in 1978, and the site of his first career win, in the 1980 Southern 500.

Of course it goes without saying that life doesn’t very often play out quite so poetically, so scriptwriters will have to take comfort in the knowledge that Darlington was also the track where Labonte won his most recent race, in 2003; in other words, a win by the No. 44 Kellogg’s Chevrolet in Saturday’s NEXTEL Cup race is by no means out of the question.

But, win or no win, the infamous 1.366-mile track will always hold great memories for the two-time NASCAR champion.

“Naturally, Darlington has always been one of my favorite tracks,” Labonte says. “It was where I ran my first race and where I was able to get my first win. It’s also the last place I won.  I’m just looking forward to going back and running down there one more time.”

Not surprisingly, Labonte has some vivid memories of his first-ever Cup and Darlington race.
“The longest race I’d ever run in my life before that was probably a 200-lap race on a half-mile track,” he says of the 1978 Southern 500.  “It was a big adjustment to run a 500-mile event.  It was definitely long and a typical Darlington deal, tearing up a bunch of cars.  The coolest thing was after the race, I’d finished fourth, and Bobby and Donnie Allison came over and congratulated me—to have two guys, both stars in the sport, do that, I thought was pretty neat.”

The Southern 500 is no longer on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule; ironically, Labonte’s 2003 win came in the final running of the historic event, a race that fell victim to scheduling changes.

“That was the last Southern 500 over Labor Day weekend,” he says of the 2003 race.  “To me, that was always one of the biggest races we ran every year.  It was a real tradition that I hated to see go away.

“Bill Elliott and I were running really good during that event and I thought to myself, ‘Well, if we can’t win I hope Bill can.’  The two of us had run at Darlington so many times and understood the history of the track, so I thought that would be neat.  It was really cool to win that race.”

Just as it would be cool to win his last Darlington race – poetic, even.

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