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Terry Labonte to Make 1,000th Start at Kansas

  • Sep 30, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Sept. 30, 2006) – In a career spanning four decades, Terry Labonte has reached more than his share of milestones. Sunday’s event at Kansas Speedway will mark yet another, as he makes his 1,000th start in NASCAR- and IROC-sanctioned competition combined.

Labonte made his NASCAR debut in 1978 and has appeared in 999 total events, the majority coming in his 845-race NEXTEL Cup Series career. He has also participated in the Busch Series (124 races), the Craftsman Truck Series (3) and IROC (27).

“That’s a pretty cool number,” Labonte said of start No. 1,000. “I really had no idea it was that many. When you put them all together like that, it’s an awful lot of races.

“I guess it just goes to show that time really does fly when you’re having fun.”

And when you’re winning.  Labonte has won two NEXTEL Cup championships, one IROC title, 11 Busch Series races and one Craftsman Truck Series event. He also clinched IROC honors for the late Davey Allison with a substitute effort at Michigan in 1993.

Labonte was the first driver to record a win in all three of NASCAR’s major touring series and “retired” from his three-race Truck Series career after winning from the pole position at Richmond, Va., in 1995. His average Truck Series finish for car owner Rick Hendrick: second.

“Rick asked me to run the truck because it was the first year of the Truck Series and it was new for everybody,” remembers Labonte, who entered his only truck events in 1995.  “They were struggling just a little bit, so I went and ran three races. We finished second, third and first, just trying to get the Hendrick Motorsports truck deal going.”

The Richmond win, of course, was the highlight of his brief stint assisting Hendrick’s then-fledgling truck program, which later produced three series championships with driver Jack Sprague.  It was the first of 21 victories on the circuit for Hendrick, who was there to congratulate Labonte that day.

“When I got out (of the truck), Rick put his arm around me and said, ‘You don’t have to run any more truck races,’” Labonte said.  “We had fun and laughed about it, but I would’ve run some more. I was just a guy they pointed to for some help at the time and I had a lot of fun doing it.”

Labonte fondly remembers racing in the Busch Series, primarily in the 1990s, with father Bob leading his family-owned team to 10 of his 11 career wins.

“It was pretty neat because my dad and I got to work together,” Labonte said.  “He was actually the crew chief on my car the whole time I ran the Busch deal. It was just really neat for us to be able to work together. That was the main reason I did it.”

Labonte’s 1,000th start will come in a car that will be familiar to many longtime race fans.  His No. 44 GMAC Chevrolet will carry a red, white and blue paint scheme inspired by the No. 44 Piedmont Airlines car he drove to the 1984 Cup Series championship for car owner Billy Hagan.

“I actually talked to Billy earlier this week,” Labonte said.  “That paint scheme we ran in ‘84 brings back a lot of neat memories. We had a heck of a team back then and ran awesome every weekend.  It was quite a season.”

Labonte’s 1,000th start will also mark his last at Kansas Speedway.  That leaves just two more races in a Hall of Fame career, with Labonte next seeing action at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in October before his final event in his home state—the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 5.

The track is pulling out all the stops to make sure the sendoff will be one to remember. Among other notable salutes, including a special pre-race show, Labonte will be the final NEXTEL Cup driver introduced, regardless of qualifying position, and will the lead the field on the initial parade lap in a special tribute car designed by Hendrick Motorsports.