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Are Elliott and Labonte ruining their legacies?

By admin | February 2, 2009

By Jayson D. Henry


It’s up to each person to live his or her own life. That includes Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte. What I wonder is, are these two great drivers ruining their legacies by continuing to race so far past their primes?

Elliott is planning another go of it with Wood Brothers Racing in 2009. He drove in 20 races for that team in 2008. His highest finish was a 12th in the season’s last race in Homestead, Florida. He also had 11 finishes of 30th or worse.

The Wood Brothers are only planning to run a partial schedule this year and it seems unlikely that their performance will improve very much. So, it looks like more of the same type of finishes for Elliott in 2009.

Since I am barely old enough to remember Elliott’s run of the mid 1980s I run the risk replacing those limited memories with the more recent memories of his 30th place runs in recent times. And, so do many other fans of my generation.

The driver once known as “Awesome Bill” has not won a race since 2003. Younger fans may be asking the question, “Why do they call him ‘Awesome Bill’?” For that matter, I was surprised when looking up his information to write this and found out he had won 53 Sprint Cup races. I knew he had won quite a few races and had won the 1988 championship but did not realize he had won that many times.

Terry Labonte is going through much the same career ending dilemma as Elliott. He also seems to be having a difficult time walking away for good.

Labonte is a two time champion(1984 & 1996) who has won 22 races throughout his career.

This year, the older of the Labonte brothers will attempt to make the Daytona 500 driving for a team called Prism Motorsports, which is partially owned by Phil Parsons. The cars will be Toyotas and will be #66.

Since the team is new and will have no owner points going into the race, hiring Labonte is a good move in that he will be assured of making the race provided Tony Stewart doesn’t have to use the champion’s provisional.

Like Elliott, it has been some time since Labonte was actually competitive in a Sprint Cup car. He competed in 10 races last season with a best finish of 16th in the July race at Daytona driving car #45 in place of Kyle Petty.

If Elliott at age 52 and Labonte at age 51 enjoy going out and driving, even though they are not really contending for wins like they once did then more power to them. However, I worry that a few years from now when someone brings up the name Bill Elliott or Terry Labonte some might only remember two drivers who used a technicality in the rule book to draw out racing careers longer than they should have been drawn out.

Both Elliott and Labonte have a past champion’s provisional to lean on in case they are not fast enough to qualify on speed. Labonte is second in line behind Stewart to get the use of that provisional and Elliott is third in line. That could be the only reason they continue to get rides.

It could be that they are doing a favor for their teams by assuring them of making races. Whatever the case, it is up to them to decide how they want to end their careers. Unfortunately, there are some who will only remember them as guys who used provisionals to get into races and then rode around near the back of the pack. That’s not exactly “Awesome”.

Jayson D. Henry is a guest blogger for

Topics: Articles |

32 Responses to “Are Elliott and Labonte ruining their legacies?”

  1. Tim Andrews Says:
    February 2nd, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    I’ve been a Bill Elliott fan since those mid 1980s. I’m now also a Carl Edwards because like you say Bill never has a chance to win.

    I’ll always be a fan of Awesome Bill but I do think he has stayed in it a bit to long.

  2. John Says:
    February 2nd, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    Sort of like DW. He hung on so long that younger people have no idea how good he was back in his days. All they remember is the last few years when he was always at the back of the field.

    I’m afraid the same thing is going to happen to Bill and Terry. Of course, if you look at some of the stick and ball sports, you see the same thing, it just doesn’t go on for as long.

    Bret Favre, Jerry Rice, guys like that can play an extra couple years beyond what they should have and it doesn’t hurt their legacy. With NASCAR though, guys seem to keep taking bad rides for 5 or 6 years past when they should have retired.

  3. Brooks Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 11:01 am

    I don’t think it’s so much a case of staying past their primes, and not having the talent. Look at the rides they’ve been in since retiring from a full season. Not exactly quality equipment.

  4. Patrick Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 11:37 am

    I agree in part with everyone commenting. I think Bill does it because he enjoys racing. Win lose or draw he enjoys to race, don’t we all wish we could do something we enjoy well into our 50’s. Also Bill doesn’t quite have 53 wins, I believe it is in the 40s.

  5. Tommy Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 11:49 am

    I believe that Bill only used one PC last year. Hardly anything to be embarrassed about.

    In DW’s final season, he used 22 past championship provisionals.

  6. Richard Allen Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Correction: Bill Elliott has 44 wins.

  7. Doug Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Admin - You allude to the problem you have understanding what Bill Elliott is doing without even realizing it; you’re not old enough to understand the history involved here.

    First, if you remembered Bill in his heyday you’d remember that Bill didn’t like attention. The Most Popular Driver push came from his family/fan club. I’m sure that Bill appreciates the 16 times he was voted Most Popular Driver, but I doubt Bill really cares what people think of him.

    Second, most of the times he’s raced since 2005 have been as favors to the owners he’s drove for. His brother was loosely involved (supplied engines) in the John Carter effort, and also Carter is a local Georgia team. As for his involvement with the Wood Brothers, they helped him in his early days when he needed help and I’m sure that he now feels he owes it to Glen and Leonard to return the favor.

    Lastly, the idea the Bill is past his prime and can’t win is ridiculous. Bill has gotten as much or more out of the 21 car then has any other driver has been able to. The exception being the road courses where two of the very best road racers in NASCAR were behind the wheel, and the restrictor plate tracks where Bill hates the type of racing enough that he simply tries to survive, not win. I said last year and I’ll say again this year. The Wood Brothers are making a mistake having Bill drive at Daytona. I don’t think Bill trusts the pack enough to mix it up in the restrictor plate races. Because of this he drops to the back and doesn’t give it his all. He’s seen too many people get hurt badly at those tracks (including himself in 1997 at Talladega). If I were the Wood Brothers, I’d try to get Schrader to drive at Daytona. They want Bill’s past champion provisional, but he’s too far back in line to get it at Daytona anyway. Labonte will probably get that. Other than Daytona, I guarantee you that Bill is capable of winning on all of the tracks he’s entered to run this year (and he’s capable of winning at Daytona too. It’s his will that’s a question mark). Unfortunately, I’m afraid the car he’ll be driving this year is not capable of winning.

    The real problem with your question is that all glory is fleeting anyway. I don’t think of Ned Jarrett as being a great driver because I never got to see him race, but he retired as the reigning champion. In time the glory fades anyway so why would one even consider it when deciding whether or not to keep driving?

  8. bobby Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    i have been a fan of bill’s since 1979 & will be forever! i hope he has 12 good races this year& i listn to his scanner every week go STILL AWESOME BILL

  9. Doug Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    BTW to clarify, I was not trying to say that Ned Jarrett isn’t a great driver. Of course Ned Jarrett is a great racer as is Bill and Terry. I was trying to say that I don’t think of that when I think of him. I think of what a great color man he was in the booth.

  10. Mark Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Plain and simple give awesome Bill a good car and he will win!!! go # 21, Been a Elliott fan since the early 80’s.

  11. Mark Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Also! would love to see Awesome Bill in a Hendrick car for a season even though its a Chevy, I bet he would win before Jr. does!!!!!

  12. Craig Duff Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I have been a Elliott and Woods fan as long as I can remember. They are all class people and if they are happy then let it be. They will do the best they can with what they have to work with . I hope them the best of luck. GO 21!

  13. Chris Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I have been a Terry Labonte fan since I was a 10 year old kid. It was just heartbreaking to watch his career end the way that it did at HMS. He was basically shoved out the door to make room for a bunch of kids that don’t respect the equipment or the integrity of the sport. I don’t blame Terry for helping teams out so that he can get out there and race a little bit. I would much rather watch Terry and Bill “ride around” than to watch some of these kids pretend to race in equipment that is far more superior than there abilities… Just my opinion though..

  14. Chris Curry Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Consider this: In Bill’s last full season, he won a race (almost two) and placed in the top ten in the final points, and was fairly competitive all season long. He’s been in part time, sub-par equipment since then and in my opinion, has done a pretty good job considering that. I’m a huge fan of Bill’s and the Woods, and they, like Petty, got behind on a lot of things. The fact that they are as excited about this year as they are gives me hope. When the Woods ran a partial schedule with Pearson in the seventies, they took 11 of the 18 races they entered that year. I’m not expecting wins from these guys this year, but I’m sure they’ll have some good runs. And anyone who is a fan of this sport should never discount the history and what all drivers did in their past. Go Bill, look forward to seeing you run well this year…

  15. richard Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Terry gets the nod only for one to five races due to the x-champ provision. Bill enjoys being around the Woods and his first family, Ford. Let him continue to enjoy it.

  16. Sean Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I just heard Ray Evernham describe Bill Elliott as the most precise driver he has ever worked with. The Wood Brothers have admittedly fallen behind and have now decided to cut their schedule back to take a hard look at their entire program. Using Bill Elliott as their driver, in my opinion, is a great move for them because he can give back so much useful information to try to get the cars better. Last year if you look at the final few races Bill drove they were getting more and more competitve. Bill Elliott is a legend and still very capable.

  17. BFK Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    If Bill had a Roush or Hendrick ride he could win win any given race. He was the main reason that Evernham got going as fast as he did.

  18. jason deckr Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    i think these two men are in the top 50 of greatest drivers and if things they have done in the past allow them into a race then it is deserved. i also think that if someone has nothing better to do than critisize two of the greats in this sports for not giving up what they love then maybe he or she is the one with a lack of talent. find a real story, not two qualified guys doing thier jobs. maybe look at the rest of the field with less talented drivers than them. dont worry about thier “legacys”. thats what nascar still has some respect for in the fact they even have a past champions provisional.

  19. Roget Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 8:21 am

    You need to check to see just how many provisionals Bill has used not only in the last year or two, but in his entire career. Maybe you are young, but you can look up statistics before going off half-cocked.

    Also, I don’t think Bill is really worried about your opinion of his legacy.

    The record books are printed, you just have to read.

  20. Jeff Thomas Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Judging from most of the comments I read in regard to this article there are many who believe Bill Elliott is still capable of driving competitively in a Sprint Cup car.

    I have some ocean front property in Arizona I’d like to sell you folks.

  21. Mark Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Jeff Thomas (above ) must be a Jr. fan!! Everybody is picking on Tony Eruy Jr. Maybe if Jr. could give him some feed back about what the car is doing ,maybe Eruy could fix it. Just listen to Jr. on the radio and you will see what i mean! There’s your ocean front property in Arizona Tommy!!! Awesome Bill Rules!!!!

  22. Doug Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Yea Jeff, that’s the same crap we Bill Elliott fans heard in the late 90s.

    Oh well, we all have our opinions. Mine opinion is grounded in 44 wins including 4 this decade, a Winston Cup Championship, Two Daytona 500 wins. a Brickyard 400 win, Top five in modern era poles won, and holder of the fastest official lap in NASCAR. What’s you opinion grounded in? No wins in a car no one else has been able to win with in almost ten years?

  23. Jeff Thomas Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 2:54 pm


    I assure you I am not a Junior fan. It is easy to see this is true because I am actually living in a world that is reality based.

  24. Mark Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Jeff, i dont know what world you live in? But Bill’s record speaks for it self!! i cant believe that you think Bill cant run good anymore, please tell me that its the car and not the driver! Thats the reality of it!! He’s as good a driver out there than anybody!! I guess Ray Evernham doesnt know what he is talking about either??

  25. Roget Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Mark and Doug,

    You’re doing a fine job. Keep working it.

    Jeff will run out of Crayon soon.

    It’s tough when you are frustrated with your own driver and have to try to find fault where ther is none.

    Like I said before, read the records.

  26. Scott St. Clair Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Bill’s last full-time year with Evernham was outstanding and could have been better. The second half of the year he won Pocono and Indianapolis, should have won Homestead (blown tire on last lap while leading and dominating the event) and Kansas (blown engine late after dominating the whole day). Elliott has more talent than most of the wet-behind-the-ears drivers Owners & Sponsors are salivating for. I wonder how many companies would love to tap into Elliott’s fan base given the current economic climate? Terry & Bill’s legacies are cemented as Champions. It’s not their fault the owners & sponsors are letting demographics, not ability, drive their decisions. The Wood Bros. are making a good move by pulling back and hopefully their work off-the-track will payoff with a more competitive effort. I guarantee that putting a younger driver in the car will not give them the kind of feedback they need to make their cars better. Ray Evernham, Junior Johnson & the late Harry Melling would tell you that!

  27. Mark Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Thanks Scott!! Remember when Ray Evernham picked Bill to drive his Dodges, Everybody laughed at Ray, Well we all know how that worked out. Bill is a class act and a great driver, a driver ANY team would love to have!! yes even today!!! GO AWESOME BILL!!!

  28. Roget Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 3:10 pm



    Where’s the dude with that property now?

    Maybe he’ll learn Bill’s fans were, are, and will be. We don’t just go with this year’s boy or son.

  29. bobby Says:
    February 7th, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    how bout that 1st practice looks like old times bill up front

  30. Chris Curry Says:
    February 7th, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    I’ll take that AZ beachfront property now, haha… Looks like he’s still got it, folks…

  31. Mark Says:
    February 9th, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Hey Jeff Thomas where are you now?? You must at your beach front proprety!!! Go AWESOME # 21

  32. Brian H. Says:
    February 13th, 2009 at 9:35 am

    This just bolsters my argument that a “senior” league should be formed for guys like this that still want to race.