A first for Labonte

Thursday, March 12, 1981 – Terry Labonte scores his first career pole in NASCAR’s premier series, nabbing the top spot for the Atlanta 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The 24-year-old Labonte, driving the No. 44 Stratograph Buick for car owner Billy Hagan, won the pole with a lap of 162.940 mph.

Labonte, a first-time winner the previous season when he stunned the racing community with a victory in the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, had a previous best starting position of second, earned at Texas World Speedway in 1979. In Atlanta, he was joined on the front row by another “youngster,” 41-year-old Harry Gant. It was only the second season of full-time competition in the Cup Series for Gant.

Bobby Allison did not attempt to qualify on Thursday after NASCAR instructed him to change the 3 ½-inch spoiler on his LeMans to a 1 ½-inch spoiler. After heated words and threats to pull out of the race, Allison eventually qualified 30th the following day.

Edwards tap sends Keselowski airborne

Sun., March 7, 2010 – Kurt Busch won the race but that wasn’t what most folks were talking about following the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. With three laps remaining, Carl Edwards, running more than 150 laps down to the leader, intentionally hit Brad Keselowski, causing the Team Penske driver’s Dodge to spin and come up off the track. After tumbling over and striking the wall with the driver’s side A-pillar and roof, the car landed upright. Keselowski was shaken but unhurt.

The incident came after contact between Edwards, piloting the No. 99 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, and Keselowski earlier in the race sent Edwards to the garage and resulted in the loss of multiple laps while repairs were made to his car. Almost a year earlier, contact between the two on the final lap at Talladega Superspeedway had sent Edwards’ car flying off the ground and into the catch fence. Keselowski, driving for Phoenix Racing at that time, scored his first Cup Series win.

“If they’re going to allow people to intentionally wreck each other at tracks this fast,” Keselowski said, “we will hurt someone either in the cars or in the grandstands.”

“Brad knows the deal between him and I … the scary part was his car went airborne,” Edwards offered.

NASCAR’s response? “I would say there seems to be a history between those two drivers. I’m not going to go any further into it right now,” Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition for NASCAR, said afterward.