Two-time champion to run his 890th career race and 61st at Talladega RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize TALLADEGA, Ala. -- In 1979, Terry Labonte climbed into a car to compete at Talladega Superspeedway in NASCAR's premier series for the first time. Sixty starts later, he'll be doing it for the last time Sunday, tying the record for most career starts at the 2.66-mile track at the same time as he ends a storied career. After 37 seasons of racing, Labonte is retiring -- and this time, he says, it's for good. Labonte first announced his retirement during his last full-time season as a driver in 2004, but it didn't take much for the veteran driver to heed the call to return to the track. "The first time, I guess, it was about halfway through the next year and Rick Hendrick called me, and Michael and Darrell (Waltrip) had asked him if he'd give me a call and see if I'd go run Michael's car," Labonte said. "So I ran a few races in that car and then I thought, 'You know, that was kind of fun, just running a few races here and there.' " The two-time premier series champion, who topped the circuit in both the 1984 and 1996 seasons, has been a constant in the sport across changes in safety, race car technology and rules, as well as a generational change of competitors. Among the 12 remaining drivers in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, six had not yet been born when Labonte began his premier series career: Joey Logano , Kyle Busch , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin , Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski . Despite his age difference compared to many of today's top contenders, Labonte said he still would want to compete in this year's new elimination-format Chase, but he also enjoys watching the added pressure and excitement of the playoffs. There is, however, one thing that makes Labonte happy he missed the current format: Winning the title hangs on a track he's not so strong at. Of all the tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, his worst average finish is at Homestead-Miami Speedway at 26.1. "The only thing I don't secretly care about is, I think they should take the last race and move it around to different tracks, kind of like the Super Bowl does," Labonte said. "So I think it would be really cool, because when you've got three or four guys that are really good at that track, and I'm never very good at that track, I would not look forward to that last event going up there against some of the guys that are very good up there." Labonte also addressed rumors that circulated concerning a life in public office, something his brother and nephew took advantage of, making yard signs and posters for Labonte's "campaign." "I'm like 90 percent of the people in here -- I'm way too overqualified for that," Labonte joked in the media center. "I had no idea how that started or where it came from." The Corpus Christi, Texas, native plans to be around the garage every so often, but as a member of his marketing company, SSG/Brandintense. The North Carolina-based firm works to bring marketing to live events for a face-to-face interaction between a company and its customers. In February, Labonte was added to the list of names under consideration on the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 ballot. With 22 wins and 361 top-10s in now 890 starts -- not to mention two championships -- his career features a long list of accomplishments. His favorite memory of that career, however, has less to do with himself than his supporters. "It was actually the first time, I think, I ever noticed the crowd. I was passing Dale Jarrett," he said, recalling a 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway . "We had been running really good all day and they had just beat us on the 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. And I had never seen the crowd, actually noticed the crowd stand up at the track, and I thought to myself, 'Oh, man, I better not screw this up, 'cause I think there's 200,000 people there pulling for me, and they're gonna be mad if I don't win this thing.' " MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
From his first win at Darlington Raceway in 1980 to his last 23 years later at the same track; Texas Terry Labonte has always been one of NASCAR's ironmen.
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Get the latest Bobby Labonte news, media, stats, and standings for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver only on the official site of NASCAR.
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