Commentary

Terry Labonte joins brother Bobby as replacement driver at Petty Enterprises

Kyle Petty could do a lot worse hiring a replacement driver to steer the No. 45 for five races. Ever hear of Terry Labonte? He joins brother Bobby as a fill-in at Petty Enterprises, writes David Newton.

Updated: June 8, 2008, 12:03 AM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte,Robert Laberge/Getty Images/NASCARBobby and Terry Labonte, right, are together racing on the same team for the first time since 2005.

LONG POND, Pa. -- Much has been made of Kyle Busch flying around the country to compete in NASCAR's Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series races in Pennsylvania, Nashville and Texas this weekend, but Bobby Labonte has been racking up frequent-flier miles as well.

The 2000 Cup champion flew to Rossburg, Ohio, on Wednesday to compete in Tony Stewart's "Prelude to the Dream," to Nashville for a Thursday autograph session at the Country Music Association Music Festival, to Charlotte for a few hours in his own house, and then to Pocono for the Cup weekend.

"Just a normal week," the driver of Petty Enterprises' famed No. 43 said with a laugh.

Well, not completely. Labonte was joined at Pocono Raceway by his brother, two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte.

The elder Labonte took a break from his retirement to begin a five-race stint in the No. 45 car at Petty Enterprises while Kyle Petty moves into his part-time job as a television analyst.

We're unusual brothers. We actually like each other.

-- Terry Labonte

The only other time the Labontes were on the same Cup team came in 2005, when Terry drove the No. 11 car at Joe Gibbs Racing for five races while Bobby was winding down his stint in the No. 18.

"We're unusual brothers," Terry said. "We actually like each other."

They also have similar driving styles, which is a big reason Bobby wanted his brother in the car. With the 45 struggling to make races -- it has missed four of 13 -- and out of the top 35 in owner points guaranteed a spot in the field, Bobby hasn't had a teammate to consistently compare notes with on the new car.

Terry is guaranteed a spot with the most recent (1996) past champion's provisional, which he needed to get into Sunday's race.

"It's going to be a struggle to start with, but hopefully it's a step in the right direction," said Bobby, who will start 37th at Pocono. "It's hard to pick it up over the weekend. We've just got to work real hard and find our weak areas and get to the point where we work on those areas and not let them lay.

"Working with him will be good. At least we'll talk about it."

This is Terry's first race in the new car on a track other than a road course. Like those who have been driving the car full-time since last season, he agreed it's a handful.

"This car is difficult to make work," Terry said. "I figured that out real quick. They're nothing like the old cars. The setups are completely different. It's not easy going to some of these tracks for the first time."

Petty warned him of that when offering the ride.

"He said, 'I'm going to apologize up front. The thing doesn't run as good as it needs to be,'" Terry said.

That's an understatement.

The car is 42nd in owner points, 354 out of the top 35. Petty has missed two races in it and Chad McCumbee the other two.

"We're definitely not where we need to be with our setup," Bobby said. "That's what he's trying to help us do and get that car back in the top 35, which will be difficult in five races.

"Hopefully, we can get it closer."

In other words, this family reunion won't be about having a good time.

"It's cool, but we want to run good," Bobby said. "He's serious about this, just like I am. Obviously we don't want to run bad."

Although he will start last, Terry was one of the few drivers on Friday who picked up speed from practice to qualifying. He hopes by the start of the race he and Bobby will have picked up enough speed to be competitive.

"Our driving styles are such that we can trade information back and forth," said Terry, a two-time winner at Pocono. "At Pocono they can make changes to one car and help it and then try it in the other one and help it, too. You can't always do that.

"But I'm sure he's going to be more help to me than I am to him."

Although they've been on different teams much of their Cup careers, Terry and Bobby have been working together since they were kids. Their Nationwide cars were built in the same shop when they were climbing the ladder to Cup.

"We've always gotten along," Bobby said. "We've never had any rivalries or finger pointing. Dad always made sure of that."

Terry laughed.

"Some brothers don't like each other, but we get along pretty good," he said.

Terry has been following his brother and the sport in general from afar, spending most weekends watching races on television from his 1,500-acre ranch about 100 miles outside of Corpus Christi, Texas.

"It's been amazing to watch good teams struggle at times with this car," he said. "That shows you how difficult it is when you see some of those guys out in left field. Once you're there during the race it doesn't seem like you can fix it. If you're off today, you're off all day."

He's even more convinced of that after spending time behind the wheel.

"I've driven all kinds of cars," Terry said. "The thing that is different is the fine line. It's got a real small window where you can get the car just right. That's a problem for a lot of teams trying to figure that out. I have no idea how to do that."

Regardless of how he does over the next month, Terry isn't ready to step back into this or any Cup car full-time.

"I watch the races and sometimes I think, 'Gosh, I wish I was there this weekend,'" he said. "Then I watch these cars and say, 'I'm glad I'm not there.'

"We're going to get all we can out of it [the next five races]. I don't know what it'll be. We'll do the best we can."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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