With the most receing Geico 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series reace at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway being the eliminator race of the Contender round of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Terry Labonte making his final NASCAR start kind of got lost in the mix. It was Labonte’s 890th-career start at the Cup level, and according to Labonte, himself, it was the last.
Labonte admitted at Talladega that he’s, reportedly, made his last-career start before, but this time around, he was sure that this past Sunday’s Geico 500 was it.
“You know, it’s only about the third time I’ve said this is gonna be my last race, but this is really gonna be the last one,” Labonte said in a press conference last Saturday.
Labonte is a two-time Cup champion, winning titles 12 years apart in 1984 and 1996; they were known as Winston Cup championships back then. A 22-race-winner, Labonte began competing full-time in 1979, making him a part of a rookie class that also included seven-time Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt. Labonte, though, made his first-career start in 1978. He raced full-time through 2004 and has made at least one start every season since then. A retirement was announced in 2005, but it was one of those aforementioned false alarms.
Labonte was listed among NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and has already appeared on the NASCAR Hall of Fame ballott. He didn’t make it for 2015 induction, but chances are, he’ll be in the Hall sooner rather than later.
Several memorable moments came for Labonte at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. It’s where he made his Cup debut, where he won his first Cup race, and also where he won his final Cup race. But I have to say, my fondest Labonte memories came at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway and also included that fellow 1979 rookie, Earnhardt. The two that stick out in my mind are the 1995 and 1999 night races at Bristol. Labonte and Earnhardt beat and banged to the finish, with Labonte coming out ahead in the 1995 battle and Earnhardt in 1999.
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Before you go, enjoy our gallery of Terry Labonte photos, including one from that memorable 1995 win at Bristol (photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).