Photo: Action Sports Photography, Inc.

Throwback Thursday Theater: 1996 Season Finale Belongs to the Labonte Brothers

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

There have been great brother duos to race in NASCAR over the years, but one of the best was the combination of Bobby and Terry Labonte. Back in November 1996, the two got to showcase their talents in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Terry entered the race with a slim 47-point advantage over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon after finishing third at Phoenix the week prior. He had done so while nursing a broken left hand that was injured in a practice crash. When the Cup Series arrived at Atlanta, he just had to finish eighth or better to clinch his second championship.

On the other hand, Bobby was winless on the year, his fourth with Joe Gibbs Racing, and was looking to make his return to Victory Lane with a win on the 1.5-mile oval.

As luck would have it, the three main players on the day, Bobby, Terry, and Gordon would qualify 1-2-3 and start at the front of the field. Bobby won the pole, with Gordon starting alongside, and Terry in third.

When the green flag dropped, the Labontes took control of the race, leading all but 10 of the first 107 laps, with Bobby in the top spot for 69 laps.

Meanwhile, Gordon was having bad luck to start the race, with a loose wheel forcing him to pit road for an unscheduled stop and dropping him down two laps. From that point on, it was a day of playing catch-up for the defending series champion.

As the race progressed, Bobby only added to his laps led total, while Terry and Gordon, who recovered from his early bad luck, maintained positions in the top-10 for the majority of the event.

No one was able to match the younger Labonte as he eventually led 147 laps on the day to score his first of six wins at Atlanta, which became his most successful track on the circuit. Gordon would finish third, with Terry Labonte finishing fifth to capture the title.

With both Bobby and Terry victorious on the day, the two then proceeded to do a double victory lap around the track to celebrate their accomplishments.

“Man, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Bobby said of the lap with his brother. “Thank goodness we’re going out a winner here at Atlanta and did some good things this weekend. It was great. Terry won the championship and like I said, that was the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

“I never thought it would take 12 years to come back after the first one,” Terry said after taking home the championship. “You just can’t ever give up. There was a lot of awful good people that helped me get here today and I just owe it all to them.

“It was a great run for Bobby and we talked about it last night. I knew he was running awfully good in practice and we were kind of joking around and we said it’d be pretty cool if you won the race and I won the championship. I never dreamed it would have happened that way, but it’s just an exciting day for us.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.