Terry Labonte today announced his future plans during a media breakfast at the Hendrick Motorsports complex, unveiling intentions to drive a partial NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule beginning next season.
The two-time Cup Series champion will embark on a 20-race campaign -- split evenly between 2005 and 2006 -- in Chevrolets branded with the No. 44 and sponsored by Kellogg's.
Kyle Busch, currently second in the NASCAR Busch Series championship standings, will assume driving duties of the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolets in the NEXTEL Cup Series beginning in 2005.
Excerpts of this morning's media event, along with comments from Labonte's Hendrick Motorsports teammates, are below. Additional quotes are available by request, courtesy of GM Racing Communications.
KYLE BUSCH, TODAY NAMED DRIVER OF THE 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES NO. 5 KELLOGG'S CHEVROLETS: "It's unbelievable to put something this big into words. It's been a tremendous opportunity for me to be here at Hendrick Motorsports, racing in the NASCAR Busch Series for Lowe's and everybody involved. Terry has been an inspiration to me and is, of course, one of the all-time greats of the NEXTEL Cup Series. He's known as the 'Ironman,' the 'Iceman.' He is all of those. I remember watching that race on TV, with Bobby (Labonte, Terry Labonte's brother) winning that race at Atlanta (1996) and Terry winning the championship, and just dreaming that one day it would be great to race there, and what if myself and my brother could have that opportunity sometime. It's all been a dream come true and something that I never thought could happen this quickly with such a tremendous organization. To be here associated with Rick (Hendrick), Ricky (Hendrick) and, of course, John (Hendrick), as well as the whole Hendrick staff, is pretty amazing. We're just going to go on and finish out this year and worry about this year right now, and of course next year we'll test the NEXTEL Cup Series as a rookie and see what we can get with the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet."
JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLETS: "Terry has been a great teammate and an asset to Hendrick Motorsports. When we were battling against each other for the championship in 1996, he proved what a tough, yet classy, competitor he really is."
BRIAN VICKERS, DRIVER OF THE NO. 25 GMAC FINANCIAL SERVICES CHEVROLETS: (YOU KNOW TERRY LABONTE BETTER THAN MOST. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HIM?) "Terry's a quiet person, until you get to know him. I had the opportunity to grow up around Terry and his family -- he used to drive me to school not too long ago. Once you get to know him and spend time with him, he starts to open up. Terry's really a funny guy, but it's a dry style of humor. Everything you've ever heard about Terry is true. He's a first-class person all the way around -- no doubt about it."
VICKERS: (WHAT HAS TERRY MEANT TO NASCAR?) "He's accomplished so many things during his career that he should be proud of. I don't think he gets the kind of credit he deserves for opening the door for younger drivers in our sport. Everybody gives a lot credit to Jeff Gordon, and that's well deserved, but Terry started competing and having success when he was in his early 20s, too. He's a good role model for our sport, as well as people in general."
JIMMIE JOHNSON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLETS: "Terry is an incredible driver and looking at how long he has been with Rick (Hendrick) says a lot. Even looking at Kellogg's and how long everyone has stuck together all these years is saying a lot about the kind of driver and person he is. You don't find that kind of relationship very often in our sport, or any sport for that matter."
TERRY LABONTE: (HOW LONG DID THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS TAKE, AND WHEN DID IT START?) "I gave it a lot of thought and it was a hard decision. Last year, we had a great season and finished inside the top-10 in points and won the Southern 500. I was hoping we'd be in the top-10 again this year and have a shot at the championship. I thought about walking away at the end of this year, but I couldn't do it. I felt like that wasn't what I wanted to do, and that I needed to do something different than a traditional farewell tour like a lot of other guys do. Rick gave me the opportunity to do this and we talked about it. I feel like this fits my plans perfectly for what I want to do -- to be able to run the races I want to run. I'm very excited about it and thought it would give me some time to help Justin (Labonte, Terry Labonte's son) with his career. It took a little while to really figure out. When you're involved in a sport like this, it's different from working at some place where you count every day until you retire. There's a lot of people that are that way and can't wait until they retire. This is a whole different deal. It's been a long process and I've given it a lot of thought."
LABONTE: (IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU'RE GOING TO BYPASS THE DAYTONA 500. IS THERE A REASON FOR THAT?) "To run a limited schedule the way we want to do it, I felt our efforts would be better if we concentrated on the majority of the tracks that are kind of the same. To run a restrictor-plate program, that's kind of a big deal and requires a lot of effort. The other main reason is I've raced there (Daytona International Speedway) 26 times and haven't won yet. Why would I want to go try it again? I'd rather go to tracks that I've won at. (LAUGHTER)"
LABONTE: (WILL YOU BE DOING A LOT OF TESTING FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS NEXT YEAR?) "Provided whatever the rules for testing are next year, I'm sure we'll test and try to be as prepared for the races we're going to run. The other thing that's exciting for me is we're able to pick the races and tracks we want to go to, and we're going to pick them in the order that we feel we can do the best at. We're going to do everything we can to try and win a couple of those events."
LABONTE: (HOW MUCH DID BILL ELLIOTT'S DECISION TO RUN A PARTIAL SCHEDULE AFFECT YOUR DECISION?) "Years ago when I first started racing, a lot of guys did run partial schedules. I never will forget seeing that No. 21 car roll up with David Pearson and thinking, 'He's probably going to win the race.' The sport seems to have gotten away from that. It wouldn't surprise me if we see more guys run partial schedules down the road. Watching Bill (Elliott) do that, I think that kind of opened my eyes to the opportunity. I ran across Bill a couple of Sunday mornings at the airport when I was helicoptering in to the race track and he was flying out and going home. He still has a good way of rubbing that in. (LAUGHTER)"
LABONTE: (DO YOU IMAGINE SEEING ANOTHER GROUP OF GUYS -- LIKE YOURSELF RICKY RUDD, RUSTY WALLACE AND MARK MARTIN -- RACE WELL INTO THEIR 40s LIKE YOU HAVE?) "I just don't think you'll see guys race as long as I have, or like Ricky Rudd has. You won't see people race as long as I have. People aren't going to stay around as long for different reasons."
LABONTE: (HAVE YOU PICKED ALL OF THE TRACKS FOR YOUR TOUR AND THE CAR NUMBER?) "The car number is 44. It's a pretty special number to me because I won my first championship in the No. 44 car, Bobby (Labonte, Terry's brother) won his Busch (Series) championship in the '44' car and Justin (Labonte, Terry Labonte's son) won his first race with the No. 44. We haven't picked all of the races yet, but what we're going to do is probably change up the races the second year compared to the first year. We want to do some special things with our fans and fan club in different parts of the country that we really haven't had the opportunity to do. We'll skip around to some different races, but the schedule has not been finalized yet. I'll let you know if Martinsville will be on the schedule depending on how we do there in a couple of weeks. (LAUGHTER)"