A Texas Homecoming for Bobby Labonte
by Pete McCole

April 2, 2004

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Bobby Labonte

Bobby Labonte's 21 Nextel Cup victories include wins in some of NASCAR’s marquee events, such as the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. But despite all Labonte’s success, the 2000 Nextel Cup Champion is still seeking his first Nextel Cup victory in his home state.

This weekend’s NASCAR events at Texas Motor Speedway will be a family reunion of sorts for the Labontes – with three members of one of the Lone Star State’s most revered racing families taking to the track.

For Sunday’s Samsung/RadioShack 500, Bobby and his older brother, two-time Nextel Cup champion “Texas” Terry Labonte, are considered hometown favorites, even though they are natives of Corpus Christi, Texas, over 400 miles away.

"It's always a great feeling going back to Texas because we can usually get more cheers than other cats do, so that's always a lot of fun,” Labonte said. “If you were to start at the race track and drive to Corpus Christi, it's seven or eight hours. In perspective, it's like going from Highpoint (N.C.) to Talladega. That's a long ways but Texas is a big state. At the same time it is cool to go back. We have huge hospitalities there and a lot of fans that crave racing. It's cool to be there. We are from Texas and we'll always be from there."

Labonte will pull double duty this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, returning to the Busch Series for the first time since 1999.

Labonte, the 1991 Busch Series Champion, is part of an all star team of five drivers who will run one race each in the #29 Chevrolet owned by Richard Childress, with sponsorship from the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserves.

The ESGR is a Department of Defense agency that maintains employer support from all public and private employers for the men and women who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.

"We're really excited,” Labonte said of returning to the Busch Series. “It's a great opportunity to get back in the Busch Series in a very unique situation driving a car for Richard Childress, which is not like driving for Joe Gibbs Racing or one of my own.”

Joining Labonte in Saturday O’Reilly 300 will be his nephew Justin Labonte, Terry’s son. Justin will be running a limited 15-race schedule this season in the Busch Series for the Labonte Motorsports team, with sponsorship from the United States Coast Guard.

“I've never raced against Justin before but I've seen him race and I've been to tests with him and things like that,” Labonte said. “I'm always looking at his career and trying to help him out as much as I can without really getting in the way, so this is a great opportunity.

“I told Terry (Labonte) he should get a car and run with us. But it didn’t quite pan out.”

Bobby will be making his 8th Nextel Cup start at the 1.5-mile oval, having competed in every Nextel Cup event run at the facility. Although Terry Labonte was a winner at the track in 1999, Bobby is still winless despite three third-place finishes and one pole at TMS.

While TMS closely resembles its sister tracks, Lowe’s Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, it is an altogether different animal. Since its opening in 1997, the track has undergone many changes, including a reconfiguring of the exit of turn four and a total reconstruction of the racing surface in 1999.

The result is a slick, fast, meat-grinder of a race track that, for Labonte, is still a fun place to race.

“It's a fast, fast track,” Labonte said. “We all know it doesn't take fast tracks to make for good racing, but we've also seen fast race tracks that make for great racing. It just happens that way.

“It's a good place to race. I think there are things that could make it better, but you can probably say that about 90 percent of the tracks. It's kind of like Atlanta when it was repaved. When the weather seasons the racetrack, it gets better by itself.

“We definitely love to go there. It's one of the neatest tracks we go to."

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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