HARRISBURG, N.C. (July 20, 2000) Terry Labonte, who owns the NASCAR Winston Cup Series record for consecutive race starts, will use relief help this weekend to maintain his string that stands at 654 races. Labonte's Hendrick Motorsports team...
HARRISBURG, N.C. (July 20, 2000) Terry Labonte, who owns the NASCAR Winston Cup Series record for consecutive race starts, will use relief help this weekend to maintain his string that stands at 654 races.
Labonte's Hendrick Motorsports team has arranged for veteran Rich Bickle of Edgerton, Wis., to drive the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet this weekend in practice and Bud Qualifying for the Pennsylvania 500 presented by American Online at Pocono Raceway, as well as the balance of the 500-mile event on the 2.5-mile speedway.
Labonte suffered a broken lower right leg in a crash in the July 1 Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. He aggravated the injury when he was involved in an accident on the sixth lap of the thatlook.com 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway on July 9.
"Terry's pretty banged up," said Jimmy Johnson when contacted at Hendrick Motorsports on Thursday. "He will practice at least a lap because he has to, to be eligible to start the race, which he will do to maintain his streak."
The tentative plan is for Labonte to start the Pennsylvania 500 and give way to Bickle at the first caution flag of the event.
"It's a real honor to sub for Terry and to drive for Hendrick Motorsports," said Bickle. "Terry's a great driver, a two-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion and everyone knows Hendrick Motorsports is one of the top organizations in all of NASCAR racing.
"I'm pretty confident we'll be able to make the driver switch and stay on the lead lap because it takes nearly three minutes to make a caution lap at Pocono. If we can do that, there's no reason why we can't get a top finish. I'm looking forward to doing my best and helping Terry and the No. 5 team earn as many Winston Cup championship points as we can."
The decision to seek relief help was apparently made after Labonte visited his doctor on Wednesday evening. Following the accident at NHIS, Labonte then tested at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for two days on July 11-12.
Labonte has been remarkably injury-free during his streak, with a broken wrist he suffered during the 1996 his only injury of note in recent years. In fact, Labonte told observers close to his team after the accident at Daytona that it was the most serious injury he had suffered since an accident in the 1982 season finale at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway.
In that event Labonte crashed at the end of the road course's long back straightaway and suffered multiple injuries that caused him to be hospitalized for a number of days. If it had not been the season finale the streak probably would have ended there, Labonte has always felt.
Bickle competed in 24 NASCAR Winston Cup events a year ago. His best finish last season came in this same race when he rolled home seventh. Bickle's only NASCAR Winston Cup effort this year was in April when he drove the No. 60 Power Team Chevrolet to a 30th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway while substituting for the injured Geoffrey Bodine.
In all, Bickle has 81 NASCAR Winston Cup career starts with his best finish -- a fourth -- coming at Martinsville in 1998 when he drove for Cale Yarborough. His NASCAR Winston Cup career winnings total $2,019,044.
This year, Bickle has concentrated his efforts in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division driving his own Bickle/Smith Motorsports entry. Supported by sponsorship from Popeyes Chicken and Aqua Velva, the 39-year-old driver has posted two top-5 finishes (South Boston, Va., and Myrtle Beach, S.C.) in just four starts.
Bickle is also slated to make a NASCAR Winston Cup start on Aug. 5 in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He will drive the No. 61 Xpress Motorsports Chevrolet in that event.