Emotional Win For First-Timer Justin Labonte (Joliet, Ill. -- July 10, 2004) None of Terry Labonte's wins could ever come close to topping this one, he said, after tearfully watching his son Justin take the checkered flag for the Tropicana...
Emotional Win For First-Timer Justin Labonte
(Joliet, Ill. -- July 10, 2004) None of Terry Labonte's wins could ever come close to topping this one, he said, after tearfully watching his son Justin take the checkered flag for the Tropicana Twister 300 Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway.
It was an emotional and popular win for what is arguably the most popular family in the NASCAR garage today.
The younger Labonte, in just his 31st start, won for the first time ever in NASCAR's Busch Series. His previous best finish was 14th in 1999.
The No. 44 U.S. Coast Guard Dodge took the lead on the white-flag lap after then-race leader Mike Wallace ran out of gas.
"It was just awesome. I don't know where to start," Terry Labonte, the two-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, said of his son's win. "To me, personally, it's bigger than any win I could ever have. It's pretty special. It really is."
Jason Keller finished the race second, and Jeff Burton finished third.
Justin Labonte's victory was a popular one among his -- and his dad's -- peers in the NASCAR garage.
"Today, something good happened to some really good people," Burton said. "(Justin Labonte) didn't have the fastest car, but something really good happened to a really good family."
"I saw Terry, and you couldn't knock the smile off of Terry's face in Victory Lane," Keller added. "This is a great sport with a lot of good families in it and this couldn't have happened to a better family."
Pole sitter and defending race winner Bobby Hamilton Jr., whom everyone believed would run away with the Tropicana Twister 300 unchallenged, left the race after just a few laps with engine troubles.
Later, several other strong competitors -- Kyle Busch, J.J. Yeley, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Michael Waltrip -- each suffered through shares of engine, car or pit troubles.
But the last-lap fuel gamble of Wallace is what helped Justin Labonte, 23, to the win.
"I was really in a state of shock there when I came back around," Justin Labonte said. "When he ran out of gas, I could not believe it."
When he took the lead and then won the race, Justin Labonte, unlike many young competitors today, chose not to celebrate with a burnout. He opted, instead, for a dignified lap around the track with a checkered flag flying from the window -- and obvious nod to his famous and always-understated father.
"I was going to do a burnout, but I remembered what my dad said, and he said, 'You shouldn't do a burnout.' "
Justin Labonte, the car owner, also remembered he may need that engine for the next NASCAR Busch Series race in two weeks.
Terry Labonte, who will start Sunday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Tropicana 400 from the 24th spot, said it would be an unbelievable weekend of racing should he win on Sunday.
"Maybe we could do a father and son deal," he added.
The Tropicana 400 is at 2:30 p.m. Sunday (CT).