TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Terry Labonte will compete in his final NASCAR race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.
The two-time Cup champion ran 26 full seasons at NASCAR’s top level, and a partial schedule the last decade. Labonte first announced his retirement in 2006, at home track Texas Motor Speedway, but he’s raced 41 times since.
“You know, it’s only about the third time I’ve said this is going to be my last race,” he said Saturday. “But this is really going to be the last one. It’s been fun.”
Labonte, who turns 58 next month, had four scheduled races this season with Go FAS Racing and good friend and crew chief/owner Frank Stoddard. All four were at Daytona and Talladega, and he finished a season-best 11th at Daytona in July.
The final start for “Texas Terry” will be the 890th of his career, which is tied for third in NASCAR. It will be his 61st start at Talladega, which is tied for the most.
Labonte won his Cup titles in 1984 and 1996, and has 22 career victories. He drove 10 full seasons for Billy Hagan, three for Junior Johnson and 11 for Rick Hendrick. He also has driven for Richard Petty, Roger Staubach/Troy Aikman, Joe Gibbs and Michael Waltrip through his career.
Labonte cited his 1999 win at Texas as one of the “coolest” memories of his career.
“That’s the first time I think I ever noticed a crowd,” he said. “I was passing Dale Jarrett. We had really run good all day and they beat us on a pit stop and I ran him down and passed him with less than 10 laps to go and I saw the whole place stand up.
“I had never noticed the crowd actually stand up at the track and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, man, I better not screw this up because I think there are 200,000 people pulling for me and they’re going to be mad if I don’t win this thing.'”
Labonte’s first career start came at Darlington in 1980, and looking back, he’s not sure it was the place to debut.
“Being from Texas, I really wasn’t that familiar with Darlington. If I would have been, I probably wouldn’t have picked that one as my first race,” he said. “They had a rookie meeting and they showed a video that they played of all the things not to do. I was sitting there watching that thing, and the guy that starred in that video was the guy that drove the car I was driving the year before. So everything he did wrong they pointed out in that video.
“So I sat right there and thought, ‘The thing to do is not make next year’s video. Don’t make all the highlights of the things not to do.’ “
Labonte ran the race — the longest distance he had ever completed — stayed out of trouble and finished fourth.
“I’m going to the garage and Bobby Allison and Donnie Allison came over and congratulated me, and I thought that was the coolest thing,” Labonte said. “So I ran that race and went to Richmond the next weekend and I think I finished seventh up there and I thought, ‘Man, I think I’m going to like this.’ It never got any easier after those two races.”
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