Terry Labonte end- ed all speculation Tuesday when he announced that his plans to field an independent team for the 1990 Winston Cup season had been scrapped.
Labonte, who left the Junior Johnson team after the 1989 season, will join the Richard Jackson//U.S. Tobacco team this year instead.After months of working toward starting his own team, bad relations with the town of Thomasville and an offer from Jackson convinced the former Winston Cup champion that a team of his own would have to wait. In a joint announcement, Labonte said that he would drive Jackson's Oldsmobile this season and suspend his operations for his own team.
Labonte will replace Phil Parsons in the Skoal car. Parsons will drive for the Morgan-McClure Kodak team this season as NASCAR's off-season series of team-switching continues for several other drivers and owners.
``I took my own car to Daytona, and I saw that Richard's was faster,' Labonte said. ``That made my decision right there.'
Labonte left the Johnson team after two turbulent years during which the owner-driver relationship broke down almost immediately after that deal was signed in 1988.
The Corpus Christi, Texas driver said that negotiations with Thomasville city leaders also broke down soon after he began work on his shop there.
``I kind of got burned out by Thomasville,' Labonte said. ``We started our building, but didn't get it finished because of some septic tank regulations. Then we decided to move it to some land I had. We cleared the land, but I couldn't get a building permit because the city didn't want a noise problem. I was kind of put out by the people in Thomasville.'
Labonte said that Jackson's offer, which wasn't available when he began plans to start his own team, was a matter of good timing. After Jackson and Parson parted ways - having run out of usable cars in 1989 - Jackson and minority owner Johnny Hayes began searching for a driver. Hayes said that landing Labonte was more than he ever hoped for.
``It's like the Charlotte Hornets signing Michael Jordan,' Hayes said. ``It's a new lease on life. We were very disappointed at the end of 1989.'
Parson wrecked the team's last super-speedway car during qualifying at Atlanta.
Labonte, after negotiating with Jackson and Hayes for only a short time, agreed to drive for the team and to sell his cars to Jackson for the 1990 season. Labonte had five cars - all Oldsmobiles - prepared when the new deal was agreed on.
His inability to land his own sponsor forced Labonte to consider Jackson's offer, but once he drove Jackson's car at Daytona last month, he was convinced. Labonte tested the Oldsmobile at more than 195 mph, the fastest time any driver has logged during the off-season tests.
``I couldn't have asked for a better deal,' Labonte said. ``They knew the plans I had and what I wanted to do, but he made it easy for me. Too easy.'
Labonte will race in all 29 races this season.