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
Terry Labonte talks with Garage Cam host Matthew Dillner about his final race in Talladega.
22-year-old has made 15 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts MORE: Full entry list for Martinsville RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today Kyle Fowler will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend in the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway . Fowler will drive the No. 32 Ford for owner Frank Stoddard Jr. and GO FAS Racing. Eight other drivers have taken turns behind the wheel of the No. 32 car: Travis Kvapil (16 races), Terry Labonte (four races), Blake Koch (three races), J.J. Yeley (three races), Boris Said (two races), Joey Gase (two races), Timmy Hill (one race) and Eddie MacDonald (one race). Labonte's 11th-place finish in the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July has been the team's best finish so far this season. The 22-year-old Georgia native has 15 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts in his career, including one this year in the spring at Charlotte Motor Speedway . He finished 32nd in the History 300 . The Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 is set for Sunday, Oct. 26 at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
2000 Brickyard win for Bobby Labonte came with brother Terry sidelined
Get caught up quickly before the GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) RELATED: Follow your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize What: 46th annual GEICO 500 Where: Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, Alabama When: Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014 TV/Radio: ESPN, Motor Racing Network Time: 2:00 p.m. ET Distance: 188 laps (500.08 miles) Pit road speed: 55 mph Caution car speed: 70 mph On the front row " Starting lineup 1. Brian Vickers , Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota (196.129 mph) 2. Jimmie Johnson , Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet (195.732 mph) Failed to qualify Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ( Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford); Justin Allgaier (HScott Motorsports No. 51 Chevrolet); Joe Nemechek (RAB Racing No. 29 Toyota) To the rear Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski will drop to the rear of the field prior to the start of today's race. Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing team changed engines in the No. 20 Toyota Saturday morning while Keselowski's Team Penske group made an alternator change before qualifying. Kenseth qualified 13th while Keselowski was fifth fastest. Going out in style Two-time NASCAR premier series champion Terry Labonte will make his final Sprint Cup start today, driving the No. 32 Ford fielded by Go FAS Racing. It will be the 61st start at Talladega for Labonte , tying the mark currently held by Dave Marcis, and Labonte ’s 890th career Cup start. The decklid of the car features artwork depicting his first Cup entry, as well as the two in which he won championships in '84 and '96. Fastest in practice First Practice: Clint Bowyer , Michael Waltrip Racing No. 15 Toyota (200.385 mph) Final Practice: Kyle Busch , Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota (195.205 mph) Defending GEICO 500 Champion Jamie McMurray , Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet Driver rating (Best driver rating average at Talladega Superspeedway based on past nine years) Kyle Larson , Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet (94.8*) Matt Kenseth , Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota (90.9) Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Hendrick Motorsports No 88 Chevrolet (90.3) *Based on one career start Former Talladega winners in the field Jeff Gordon (6); Dale Earnhardt Jr . (5); Clint Bowyer , Jimmie Johnson , Terry Labonte , Jamie McMurray , Brad Keselowski (2); David Ragan , Tony Stewart , Brian Vickers , Michael Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Kevin Harvick , Kyle Busch , Denny Hamlin (1). 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.
Incident sent 'Rowdy' to garage early and he couldn't recover TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Kyle Busch was enjoying one of his best efforts ever in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, with five consecutive top-10 finishes and a second-place position in the points standings. Then came Talladega, and the wreck, and the mad scramble to repair a car that looked beyond repair. Busch was able to return to Sunday's GEICO 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, but the 40th place finish proved too damaging to overcome. Seemingly headed for the Eliminator Round of the Chase, Busch instead now joins six-time champion Jimmie Johnson , Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Kasey Kahne as those who are no longer in contention for the series title. "We were riding around back, Kyle was just playing it conservative … they wrecked in front of us, we got slowed up and the guys in back didn't," said crew chief Dave Rogers. "It's part of speedway racing; you know someone is going to wreck out, you just hope it's not you." Busch, whose car was nicked only slightly in a six-car incident on Lap 60 when Jamie McMurray appeared to have a tire go down, wasn't nearly as fortunate on Lap 103. Contact between Aric Almirola and J.J. Yeley on the backstretch started a chain reaction incident that swept up Tony Stewart , Casey Mears , AJ Allmendinger , Busch, Terry Labonte , Alex Bowman , Clint Bowyer , Austin Dillon and Brian Vickers . Busch and Almirola were the only two to spend an extensive amount of time in the garage, but both eventually made it back on the track. While Busch did gain three spots after his car was repaired -- he finished ahead of Michael McDowell , Yeley and Bowman -- he was four points behind Kahne and seven behind Jeff Gordon , who was eighth in the standings before the Eliminator Round reset. "It was a tough day for the crew but we'll gather ourselves back up tomorrow and we’ll race them hard at Martinsville," Rogers said. "We'll try to advance in points and get to fifth, do the best we can the rest of the year." Busch, 29, was making his seventh Chase appearance. He finished a career-best fourth in the championship battle a year ago. He qualified for the Chase thanks to a win earlier this season at Auto Club Speedway , and advanced out of the first three-race round with finishes of seventh, eighth and 10th at Chicagoland, Loudon and Dover, respectively. A third-place finish at Kansas and fifth-place run at Charlotte in the Contender round left him second in points heading into Sunday's race. Busch did not comment publicly after the race. "I can't praise him enough," Rogers said of his driver. "He's really stepped up to be a great leader of this race team in the Chase. "We've had a couple of things go against us -- getting the nose knocked off at Loudon (and) today, and Kyle's done a really good job of biting his lip and just backing the race team to let us do our job. "I can't say enough good about him. I'm really proud of him. It's been a lot of fun working with him and we're not done yet." 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
New crew chief for Paul Menard prepared for Talladega RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today TALLADEGA, Ala. – Justin Alexander makes his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway as a crew chief. Alexander, 33, is replacing Richard "Slugger" Labbe atop the pit box for the Richard Childress Racing No. 27 team with driver Paul Menard . "I've been looking forward to this for a long time," Alexander said Saturday at the 2.66-mile track. "It's a special opportunity." A Charlotte native, Alexander worked in several roles at Hendrick Motorsports before making the move to RCR before the start of the 2014 season. He served as a shock specialist for the teams of drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in 2003 before moving into the role of lead engineer for Johnson's No. 48 team in '05. He spent the '06 season as an R&D engineer at Hendrick, then was named lead engineer for Gordon’s No. 24 organization in '09. "It's all the same; just different organizations," Alexander said. "I learned a lot at Hendrick and that prepared me a lot for what I'm doing right now. It's just a really good preparation. But really, the same things apply. Nothing is really that different. It's just organizational stuff. "I've worked with Chad (Knaus) and Steve Letarte and I've learned a lot from those guys. They both have different styles in doing things. And honestly, you don't really know until you get to this position to how you're going to run things. But I have my own way and it's not like anybody else’s. But I'm learning as I go a little bit and so I'm looking forward to it." Knaus has won six championships with Johnson while Letarte served as Gordon's crew chief before taking over the same role with driver Dale Earnhardt Jr . Alexander holds a mechanical engineering degree from North Carolina State University. Although the racing can be intense at Talladega, he said it's a "good place" to make his debut. "Talladega is not too terribly intensive on the set-ups of the cars, so to speak, and changes on pit road," Alexander said. "From that standpoint, it makes it a little bit easier. "But really, anywhere, I think I'd be fine. But Talladega is a good place to start." Labbe will oversee the research and development program at RCR. The car chief for Terry Labonte 's championship-winning team in 1996, Labbe won five races as crew chief. Among those victories were the 2003 Daytona 500 with Michael Waltrip and the 2011 Brickyard 400 with Menard. Menard enters Sunday's GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Talladega 21st in points. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Kristy Labonte shares stories from a childhood in the infield