Bristol: Terry Labonte preview

TERRY LABONTE, DLP HDTV TEAM, FOOD CITY 500 NOTES AND QUOTES CORNELIUS, N.C., Wednesday, March, 22, 2006 -- Terry Labonte started racing at Bristol when there were only about 20,000 seats. It was 1979 and Labonte scored a pair of top-10 ...

TERRY LABONTE, DLP HDTV TEAM, FOOD CITY 500 NOTES AND QUOTES

CORNELIUS, N.C., Wednesday, March, 22, 2006 -- Terry Labonte started racing at Bristol when there were only about 20,000 seats. It was 1979 and Labonte scored a pair of top-10 finishes in his first two starts at the 533 of a mile bullring. Not bad for a young driver at "Worlds Fastest Half-Mile."

When Labonte made his first start at Bristol in 1979, there is a good chance that the race was not shown on TV. Today, you can watch the Food City 500 in High-Definition (best viewed with DLP HDTV technology, mind you) on FOX Sports. In fact, just two years before Labonte first start at Bristol, Texas Instruments scientist Dr. Larry Hornbeck began exploring how the principles of reflections could be used to manipulate light.

Fast-forward to 2006: Dr. Hornbeck's exploration eventually became DLP HDTV technology and Labonte, more than 50 starts at Bristol and two NASCAR championships later, is set to drive the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevy in what will most-likely be his final start at Bristol.

Labonte's numbers at Bristol are impressive: 54 starts, two wins (Aug. 1984 and Aug. 1995), 32 top-10 and 19 top-five finishes. He is tied for second for most top 10 finishes in Bristol history with Darrell Waltrip, who also had 32 (Richard Petty had 37). His 19 top-five efforts place him fourth on the list behind Waltrip and Petty (26), Rusty Wallace (21) and Dale Earnhardt (20).

And then there are the battles with Earnhardt of 1995 and 1999. Earnhardt wrecked Labonte on the last lap of the night race in 1995, but Labonte slid across the finish line to take the victory, despite the heavy damage to the front of his car. Earnhardt wrecked him again at the end of the 1999 night race, but this time Labonte wasn't so fortunate -- he finished eighth.

Terry Labonte (No. 96 DLP®HDTV Chevrolet):

YOU'VE KIND OF SEEN BRISTOL GROW UP HAVEN'T YOU?:

"It's been amazing the changes that have taken place over the years. I would have never dreamed that in 1979 when I ran my first race there -- with probably 20,000 people, that it would turn into that track that it is today. They've just done an incredible job of building all the suites and the seats and everything. It's just an unbelievable place."

WAS THERE EVER A YEAR THAT YOU WENT THERE AND SAID, 'WOW, THIS PLACE IS REALLY GETTING BIG.'?

"It's interesting, because it was never a huge change from year-to-year. They were always working on it and doing this and that and taking it to the next level and then when you kind of looked at it is was like, 'Wow, this is incredible.' There was never like a huge change. Probably the biggest thing was when they added all the suites around the top."

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE TWO 'EARNHARDT' FINISHES THAT EVERYONE TALKS ABOUT?

"They were pretty exciting races. The first one, when I won the race, he got tires, and I had older tires on, and he was catching us there at the end. I was going to fine, but caught some traffic and got caught behind some lapped traffic and lost a little time, and he caught me there at the last lap. He got into me coming to the finish, and I went across the finish line sideways. I knew I was going to wreck, but I never let off, because I was pretty sure I could beat him across the line if I stayed in the gas, I just wasn't sure what was going to happen past that. But, we made it across the line and I won the race.

The next one, I was actually leading the race, and the caution came out I slowed down when the caution came out and Darrell Waltrip ran all over me and spun me out with like 10 to go. And I thought, 'shoot.' I mean, we had a good lead. So, I'm sitting backwards on the racetrack and everybody goes by me, and then I get turned around, pit and get four tires. Well, Earnhardt was leading, but was pitting on the backstraightaway, so he stayed out, and everyone else stayed out. So, I'm like the only guy who has new tires. Well, new tires at Bristol against guys that have 50 laps on theirs, I'm a lot faster than everybody. So, I came through the pack and passed him (Earnhardt) and we kind of rubbed each other down the frontstratightaway, He hit me off of (Turn) 2 and it caused a five- or six-car wreck."

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE POST-RACE?

"It was kind of eerie almost. The fans really booed him, even his own fans did, I think. I don't know, it was just one of those deals. I told some people, 'You know, I don't think he did it on purpose.' And they were like, 'You're the only one who thinks that!' I was a little hot about it for a couple of weeks. It made for some cool highlights. I think what I miss about Dale, is Bristol. When you go there, man I'm telling you, if you were going to win, you were going to race him at some point in the night to do it. We had some fun races there, for sure."

HOW HAVE THE FIRST FOUR RACES WITH THE DLP HDTV TEAM GONE SO FAR?

"The guys have worked hard. We haven't qualified as well as we'd like too, but a lot of that has to do with the new testing rules. It's hard being a new team, because of the limits NASCAR puts on testing. We're only allowed to test a five or six tracks that we race at, and we don't have a notebook that says, 'Here's what we did last year.' So, it's tough at the beginning of the weekend. But, the guys work hard and we've had some solid finishes. We want to be solidly in the top 35 after Bristol. We're just trying to build a cushion so when Tony (Raines) gets in the DLP Chevy, they don't have to worry about it. Hopefully we can finish strong at Bristol and the team will be in a good place with the top 35 is reset at Martinsville."

-hofr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Darrell Waltrip , Terry Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Richard Petty