DALE EARNHARDT, TERRY LABONTE TO MAKE 500TH START IN BUD AT THE GLEN

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- NASCAR champions Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte will both mark a milestone when they fire up their engines for the August 13 Bud at the Glen. It will be the 500th career Winston Cup start for both drivers.

It will also be the 495th consecutive start for Labonte, who will be looking to break Richard Petty's all time mark of 513 straight starts early next season. Labonte has not missed a race since the beginning of the 1979 season. Earnhardt, who won 1979 rookie of the year honors, missed four races midway through that season due to injuries, and will be making his 472th consecutive start.

Petty is also the career leader with 1,177 Winston Cup races. Earnhardt and Labonte are tied for 15th on the all-time list, but are fourth in active competition, trailing only Dave Marcis, Darrell Waltrip and Ricky Rudd.

"I haven't really thought about it," Earnhardt said when asked about the upcoming milestone. "When you think about it, it is impressive to start 500 Winston Cup races. When you start out, you don't really know where you're going in this sport. I never dreamed of running 500 races. There's a good group of fans up there at Watkins Glen, and it's always exciting and good racing."

Earnhardt reached one milestone which did get him excited earlier this season -- his first road course victory, in the Save Mart 300 at Sears Point, Calif.

"I've been competitive on road courses, but I never won one until this year," Earnhardt said. "It was just great (winning at Sears Point). I think a road course is a little special, I reckon because it's different than what I usually race.

"We can still win Watkins Glen," added the 44-year-old Kannapolis, N.C., driver of the GM Goodwrench Service Chevy Monte Carlo. "We've won two poles at the Glen, we set the track record, we've been third, we've been right there."

Earnhardt's found a place in the Watkins Glen record book. He's led seven of the nine runnings of the Bud at the Glen, and has completed every possible lap -- 771 in all.

"I think sitting on the pole with the track record was fun," Earnhardt admitted. "That race (1993) with Kyle and I wrecking was amusing. Not funny, but amusing. Here we are running nose to nose with six laps left and Martin wins the race."

Earnhardt followed up his 1979 rookie of the year award by winning the Winston Cup title the following year. He's added championships driving for Richard Childress in 1986, '87. '90, '91, '93 and '94, tying him with Richard Petty.

Labonte won the 1984 Winston Cup. A move to the Rick Hendrick team last year saw him drive the Kellogg's Corn Flakes Chevy to victory circle three times, followed up by a win earlier this year at Pocono.

But the 38-year-old Corpus Christi, Texas native will be looking to draw on his considerable Watkins Glen Busch Grand National experience when he returns here in August. Labonte competed in all nine runnings of the Bud at the Glen, scoring three top-10 finishes. However, in five BGN races at the Glen, he scored three victories, a second and a third.

"I've come close to winning up here in the Winston Cup car two or three times and had something happen late in the race," Labonte said after winning the Lysol 200 NASCAR Busch Grand National race at the Glen in June. Labonte won the inaugural Glen BGN event, then the Fay's 150, in 1991, and won again in 1993.

His best chance to win the Bud at the Glen may have been 1987 when he sat on the pole and finished second, 12 seconds behind Rusty Wallace. Other than that, he has only cracked the top 10 twice, including an eighth-place finish in the rain-shortened 1992 race won by Kyle Petty, and sixth last year after starting 10th. He also won the pole in 1991 and led the first 19 laps, but retired after 47 laps due to motor problems.

"Our Kellogg's team has been running great all year long, so I'm looking forward to returning here," he said after the June win. "I think we'll have a new car coming up here which we ran at Sears Point and it was really good there," said Labonte who qualified second and finished fifth in the May race. "I feel like it should be better here and I'm better here than I am at Sears Point too."

Like Earnhardt, Labonte hasn't been adding up races over the years, and hadn't thought much about his 500th green flag in Winston Cup competition.

"I really haven't given much thought to starting 500 races, other than it's going to be at a race track I like," Labonte said. "I guess it's good, but it's just kind of a number and I haven't really given it much thought.

"The sport has really changed an awful lot," Labonte continued. "It's changed a lot in the last three or four years. Our sport just continues to get bigger and better."

Earnhardt and Labonte will both bid for their third Watkins Glen Busch Pole position during RCA Qualifying Day on Friday, August 11. Opening Winston Cup practice is Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with qualifying at 2 p.m. Final practice and qualifying is set for Saturday, with the schedule featuring the Burnham 150 NASCAR Busch North Grand National race at noon and the SCCA Serengeti Trans-Am at 3:30 p.m. The 10th Bud at the Glen takes the green flag at 1:10 p.m. on Sunday, August 13.

Reserved grandstand and general admission tickets are still on sale, by calling (607) 535-2481, or by fax to (607) 535-2344. The Watkins Glen International gates open for spectator admission and camping at 10 a.m. on Thursday, August 10, with on-track activities including Busch North and Trans-Am practice and qualifying. For additional information, call (607) 535-2481.

J.J. O'Malley/Watkins Glen International