Last Southern 500 On Labor Day Weekend: The Last Day "Texas Terry" Shined
It was Aug. 31, 2003.
It was known, that this was the last Southern 500 on Labor Day Weekend.
The front row was taken by two hot shot young drivers. Defending rookie of the year, Ryan Newman, and Hendrick's new youngster Jimmie Johnson.
And row two had two surprise drivers, veteran "Texas" Terry Labonte, and Elliott Sadler.
Everyone was feeling good for "Texas" Terry. It had been a while since he had looked so good, and everyone was pulling for a top five run,for one of NASCAR's best people.
But no one could've guessed what was going to happen.
It had been almost four years since "Texas" Terry had been to victory lane, and everyone seemed content that his win at Texas in 1999 was going to be his last.
Only having six top five finishes at Darlington, since his first career win in 1980, no one expected Labonte to get his second win at Darlington 23 years after his first.
Early on, it was like everyone had expected, Terry was having a great run, hanging in the top-10 for most of the day.
"Rocket" Ryan Newman led most of the day, leading 120 of 367 laps.
He and rookie Greg Biffle had dominated for most of the day.
Then a debris caution in turn four at lap 335 changed things for everyone.
Another rookie, Jamie McMurray was in the lead, when the cars came down pit road for the final time.
Terry won the race off of pit road.
It was labor day weekend. It was at this point, I screamed out to my brother, who was playing football with the family, that he should get in here, the race was about to end.
He came in, and I'll never forget it. He asked me who was in the lead.
I said "Well, they just pitted, and Terry Labonte took the lead off of pit road."
He then in turn said, "Oh wow, wouldn't it be somethin' if he hung on!"
The green flag waved at lap 338, there was 29 laps to go.
Terry got a great run off of the restart, and never looked back.
Up until about two to go, everyone had thought that Terry was going to lose it, he didn't.
I had to say it out loud to believe it. "Terry Labonte wins the Mountain Dew Southern 500."
It was incredible.
Terry was overjoyed.
Everyone in the house was clapping, they couldn't believe it.
This is the type of race, that makes Darlington so great. It was an unbelievable underdog winner.
Terry had won his 22nd, and final win, and at that time, everyone knew it would be.
It was the final day of dominance, for a guy who was just darn good for 25 years.
A quiet guy, Terry was never very popular, but he was always there as a threat.
It felt good to see him as a winner again, one last time, giving us one more day of summer in a race that had given us so many memories over the years.
There was one more Southern 500 after this one, but it wasn't on labor day.
Jimmie Johnson won that one.
But 2003, the last day on the date that the Southern 500 belongs on, which is Labor Day weekend, and it's one that people will never forget.
Now, six years later, and the Southern 500 is back. It will sure give fans more memories for years to come, I just can't wait to see what they are.
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