When Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs took his first steps toward forming a NASCAR team in 1991, he turned to champion team owner Rick Hendrick for stock-car racing expertise. Fourteen years later and on track to win its third NASCAR championship, Joe Gibbs Racing is extending the same favor to another fledgling team: This one owned by former Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.
Amid much fanfare at Texas Motor Speedway Thursday, Hall of Fame Racing, as the Aikman-Staubach stock-car partnership is known, announced that NASCAR veteran Terry Labonte and Tony Raines would split driving duties for the team's inaugural season in 2006 in Chevrolets and engines built by Joe Gibbs Racing. Labonte will drive the first five races of the season in the No. 96 Chevrolet, as well as the two road-course races; Raines will drive the rest. The announcement was made by Bill Saunders, the team's managing partner.
"There are a lot of connections there," said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing. "We figured that since they were retired Cowboys, it was okay. But it is funny; they tried to kill each other for years, and now they're going to team up on some stuff."
Though Aikman and Staubach may have led charmed lives calling the shots in the NFL, they likely will face a tougher time as rookies on NASCAR's top circuit. The first challenge will be qualifying for all 36 races. As a new team, Hall of Fame Racing won't have any provisional starting spots in 2006 (under NASCAR rules, provisional starts are awarded based on teams' performances the previous year), so its driver must earn his spot in each week's race based strictly on speed. A subpar engine, sloppy qualifying lap or crash during time trials won't get it done.
"To think about a new car owner, a driver, a new driver so to speak, all new, new, new, and have to make all the races early, things like that, it just is a huge uphill feat," Rusty Wallace said. "I wish them all the luck, but it's going to be a tough one."
Dallas-based Texas Instruments will bankroll the operation. Joe Gibbs Racing will supply its 800-horsepower engines, several cars and technological insight, according to J.D. Gibbs. Texas Instruments, in turn, will join Joe Gibbs Racing in some joint marketing efforts.
"I think it's good for NASCAR to get some new teams in the sport," J.D. Gibbs said. "It's a big growing curve and a hard business. But if they're willing to put the effort into it, we'll kind of partner with them. At least we can tell them a lot of what not to do."