Jim Smith: The 1996 Cup finale in Atlanta

The past week’s announcement by the Atlanta Motor Speedway that it is going to alter the race track after this years NASCAR Cup Series race. That decision has drawn the ire of many of the cup series regulars and a tremendous amount media attention.

  The last time the track was repaved and altered was after the November 1996 Cup season finale. It was announcedthen that the track would be reconfigured from an oval to its’ current D-shape with a dogleg and repaved for the 1997 season. That race was special for this writer and my son Jim Smith and grandson Eric Smith because we were spectators that day.

  That day, November 10, 1996, started out cold with hints of snow flurries from the night before. We were dressed as if we were attending a football game instead of a NASCAR Cup race. We sat it the Petty Grandstand which was turn two back then and is now turn four in the tracks present configuration.

  The race itself was a history making day for NASCAR Hall of Fame brothers Terry and Bobby Labonte with Bobby, driving for team owner Joe Gibbs, started from the pole and won the race with Terry claiming his second NASCAR Championship driving for Rick Hendrick

  The day started with Terry leading the championship points with Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett the only two drivers with a chance to beat him for the title. Gordon trailed with 47 points and losing by 37 with Jarrett trailing by 99 points and losing by 89.

  The 1984 champion needed only to finish 8th or better to claim his second championship. He finished 5th behind his brother with Jarrett finishing 2nd and Gordon finishing 3rdand claiming 2nd in the championship points battle. 

  After the checkered flag the brothers slowly circled the track in their Chevrolets to a standing ovation from the crowd. Victory Lane was extra special because the whole Labonte family celebrated with the two brothers and theirrespective victories.

Three of the starters from that race, NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Bobby Labonte and Bill Elliot, along with Michael Waltrip, are racing in this year’s Superstar Racing Experience.

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