For a few months it looked like one of the most iconic names at Talladega Superspeedway would be absent from this weekend’s festivities. The Earnhardt name has a long and rich history at the facility, one that has won over 20 races in several different series over the past three decades.
However, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s concussion has forced him to miss this weekend’s race, and it looked like the name Earnhardt would not race at Talladega. But a late announcement this past week has changed all that. Dale Earnhardt’s grandson Jeffrey Earnhardt will carry the name to its 76th consecutive start at the facility. The streak dates all the way back to fall 1978. Earnhardt will be driving the No. 83 Starter Toyota for BK Racing. The No. 83 car has a charter, guaranteeing the 27-year-old Mooresville, North Carolina, native a spot in the 40-car field on Sunday.
It was a feel-good story for a family that has done so much for the sport of NASCAR. The Earnhardt name isn’t the only one carrying a long-standing, respected tradition at the track. The name Labonte has been synonymous with stock car racing over the last four decades. First, it was Terry Labonte, who in his first Cup race at Darlington Speedway in 1978 finished a respected fourth, an impressive feat. We should’ve known right away that Labonte was special.
Over the next 37 years Labonte would go on to make 890 career starts, running a part-time schedule for the last decade. He retired from competition in 2014. The elder Labonte won two Cup Championships and 22 races along the way. He is also one of the most respected drivers in NASCAR history, and this past January, he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Labonte passed his knowledge and experience down to his little brother Bobby Labonte, whose career almost mirrors his brother’s. The younger Labonte won 21 career NASCAR Cup races and won the NASCAR Cup championship in 2000. He was so respected that his former teammate Tony Stewart gives Labonte a lot of credit for helping him with his transition into the stock car world. Labonte has made 720 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts and will race this weekend at Talladega, driving the No. 32 Ford for Go FAS Racing.
The duo hasn’t missed a race at Talladega Superspeedway since August 1978, a streak almost as long as the Earnhardt families. It will be the 75th consecutive time that a Labonte will run at Talladega Superspeedway. In Terry’s 61 Cup starts there he was able to visit Victory Lane twice, first in 1989 and then in 1997. Bobby won his only Cup race at the track in 1998.
However, his most memorable win at the facility did not come in a Cup car. Back in 2007 Bobby Labonte ran 19 races for Kevin Harvick, Inc. in the XFINITY Series, and included in that schedule was the Aaron’s 312 in April. There he pushed teammate Stewart out to the lead and passed him coming to the stripe. It was a popular win and the smile on Stewart’s face was as big as Labonte’s. It just showed you the amount of respect Stewart has for the Texas native.
This weekend at Talladega could very well be Labonte’s last in a Cup car. The last two seasons he’s driven the restrictor plate tracks for Go FAS Racing and its No. 32 Ford. Their plans are up in the air for 2017, and it’s quite possible those plans may not include Labonte.
While the Earnhardt name will continue past this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, the Labonte name may come to an end. That’s one name I’m really going to miss.