OXFORD – Terry Labonte obviously still has a few laps left in him.
After the two-time NASCAR Nextel Cup champ ended the season last fall at Texas Motor Speedway, it was uncertain whether the veteran driver would be back behind the wheel. A chance to drive in the TD Banknorth 250 ended any kind of retirement speculation.
“I’m excited to get back to Oxford and be part of that great TD Banknorth tradition,” Labonte said in a statement. “My family has roots in the Rumford area, and I’ve always been fortunate to have a lot of friends and fans up there. It’s a race I have always wanted to win, and I believe this is going to be my best chance yet.”
His father, Bob, was born and raised in Western Maine before relocating to Corpus Christi, Texas.
The native of Corpus Christi, Texas, won stock car racing’s top prize in 1984 and 1996 and was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998. He’ll be shooting for his fourth 250. He qualified in 1983, 1986 and 1992. His best finish was 17th in 1992.
“Terry Labonte was a teammate of mine in one of the 250s,” said fellow NASCAR veteran Kevin Lepage, making his own return to the 250. “I didn’t know he was coming until just before I got up here. He’s not racing this year, so I don’t get to see him at the race track. I’ll be sure to look him up (Sunday). I’ll see how he enjoys retirement, but I know he’s not retiring too much because he’s going to be driving next week at Indy. I have to ask him about that. I thought once you retire, you’re suppose to retire.”
Labonte will be a teammate of Ben Rowe’s at the 250. His yellow No. 44 is being prepared by Richard Moody Racing of Auburn. The car was at OPS Saturday, but Labonte won’t arrive until this morning.
It won’t be the first time Labonte has driven a car with No. 44 on the door. The number was reportedly worn by his father during his high school football career in Maine.
Labonte’s is scheduled to replace Michael Waltrip at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in next week’s Brickyard 400. He will also drive Waltrip’s car at the two Cup road courses. He finished 35th at Sonoma for the struggling team, and will drive it again at Watkins Glen on Aug. 12.
Lepage calls Labonte a gentleman on the track in this day and age where drivers resort to aggressive moves to succeed.
“He’s a Mark Martin type of driver, and he’ll race you as fast as his car is,” said Lepage. “If his car is not handling, he’ll get out of it.”
Known as one of the most versatile and durable drivers in stock car racing, Labonte won 22 races in a Nextel Cup career that spanned 29 season. With 182 top-5 finishes and 361 top-10 showings, he’s won $36.5 million in NASCAR’s premier series.
“It’s a fun race, but it’s a tough race,” Labonte told Speed51.com. “I remember the first time we tried to qualify. We looked around and saw something like 100 other cars. I’m hearing that they’ve already broken that record by a bunch. You just have to get up on the steering wheel and go after it.”