#039;Iceman#039; snaps 156-race winless streak

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 1, 2003

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) -- There were no tears in Terry Labonte's eyes when he took the checkered flag on the Southern 500. The ''Iceman'' has always been able to control his emotions, even after a wildly popular, long overdue victory.

Labonte, a two-time Winston Cup champion in the twilight of his career, snapped his 156-race winless streak Sunday by winning the last true Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

He could have celebrated with a victory burnout like none ever seen before. Instead, he collected the checkered flag and drove a simple lap around the historic track before heading straight to Victory Lane.

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''It had been so long since I won that I was just sitting there trying to think who I had to thank,'' Labonte said.

For those who know Labonte, that's about as exciting as it gets.

His younger brother, Bobby, the 2000 Winston Cup champion, knew the party would be tame by the time he got to Victory Lane to join in the celebration.

''He's the Iceman, real cool and calm and doesn't really get too excited about anything,'' Bobby said. ''He's pretty hard to read. Just yesterday I asked him how his car was and he said 'Ehhh, it's OK.' Then he goes out and wins the race with it.''

The win could not have come at a better time for Labonte, who made his first career Winston Cup start at Darlington in 1978, then won his first race here two years later.

Now he's got another victory -- the 22nd of his career -- in the final Southern 500 run on Labor Day weekend. The event is moving to November next season.

He held off youngsters Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and rookie Jamie McMurray for the win and couldn't help but be a little bit pleased none of NASCAR's newbies got to celebrate the victory.

''I was running with Bill Elliott (late in the race) and thinking to myself, 'I hope one of us wins it because we appreciate this place more than some of the young guys do,''' Labonte said.

Elliott ended up fifth and like most of the drivers, saluted Labonte for his milestone victory.

Labonte, whose last victory was in his native Texas in March 1999, ran among the leaders all day and finally went ahead for the first time on lap 335 when his crew changed four tires and filled his Chevy with gas in 13.11 seconds during a caution-period stop.