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Flashback: Labonte wins in milestone start at N. Wilkesboro

CONCORD, N.C. – Fans and competitors have bestowed several nicknames on Terry Labonte during his tenure as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. They’ve called him Texas Terry because he’s a native of the Lone Star State and Iceman because the two-time Cup champion remains cool under pressure.

But the moniker that stands out for some fans is iconic with the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet that Labonte drove to Victory Lane during his 1996 championship campaign.

Ironman.

This Saturday, April 14, the Cup Series will line up at Texas Motor Speedway, and Hendrick Motorsports’ four drivers each are gunning for the organization’s 200th Cup win.

Critical to that milestone, though, is a moment that happened 16 years ago on this very weekend. The date was April 14, 1996, and Labonte was strapping in for his 513th straight Cup start, which tied him with then-record holder Richard Petty. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet started from the pole position, led a race-high 167 laps and held off teammate Jeff Gordon to score his fourth career victory at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

Labonte’s first win of the 1996 season, was the 52nd Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports. Later that season at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Labonte secured the 60th win for the organization, which to-date has 199 Cup victories and ranks first among teams in the modern era and second all-time behind Petty Enterprises (268 wins).

“It’s exciting to be part of that, and you know it was just a great opportunity for me to be able to drive for Hendrick Motorsports for those years,” said Labonte, who ultimately surpassed Petty’s consecutive start record (513) and racked up 655 races until 2000. Today, Labonte ranks third on the all-time list behind former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Ricky Rudd (788 starts, 1981-2005).

“It was really a chance of a lifetime. Everybody doesn’t get the opportunity to drive for a team that’s as good as they are and a team that has an opportunity to win a championship. That just doesn’t happen all the time.”

Labonte, who finished the 1996 season with a broken hand, edged teammate Jeff Gordon by 37 points to win his first Cup championship with Hendrick Motorsports and second overall. During 12 seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, Labonte contributed 12 wins, 64 top-five finishes, 125 top-10s and seven pole positions.

“It was a great organization, great team and you’ll not find a better owner to drive for than Rick Hendrick,” Labonte said. “For us to win some races and win a championship was really incredible.”

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