Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway will be the 890th and final race in what surely will be a NASCAR Hall of Fame career for Terry Labonte, one of only 15 drivers to win multiple NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships.
In addition to 22 Sprint Cup race victories in his illustrious career, Labonte holds the record for longest period between NASCAR titles. Labonte won his first title in 1984 with car owner Billy Hagan and his second in 1996 with Rick Hendrick.
And that proved to be a problem this weekend.
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For his final race, FAS Lane Racing, the team Labonte is driving for this weekend, wrapped the right side of Labonte’s C&J Energy Services Ford in the blue and white colors of the long-defunct Piedmont Airlines, his 1984 championship sponsor. The left side was done up in Kellogg’s red and yellow, Labonte’s sponsor during his 1996 title run.
But NASCAR vetoed the scheme, saying it violated a rule that requires a consistent look for the paint scheme and was not submitted in time to be approved anyway.
So prior to Sunday’s race, Labonte’s record-tying 61st start at Talladega, the FAS Lane crew will have to re-wrap the car.
No matter. It will still be a day devoted to Labonte.
The two-time champion hasn’t run a full schedule since 2004, and in the last eight seasons has only run 31 races, about four per season.
Now, he’s ready to call it quits.
"After I came here the first time, I didn’t know if I’d have the opportunity to come back the second time, much less 61 times," said Labonte. "It’s been a lot of fun. … I’ve enjoyed running a few races off and on these last few years."
Labonte said his favorite two victories came when he won on his home track, Texas Motor Speedway, in 1999, and the final victory of his career in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 2003.
"I think probably one that was the coolest for me, probably two of them actually, but the one in Texas out there when I won the race," said Labonte. "That’s the first time I think I ever noticed a crowd. 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 gonna be mad if I don’t win this thing.’
"So it was cool to win that race in my home state, and then probably the race at Darlington that we won when they had the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend. We won the race that day and it’s between those two as being the coolest ones, I think."
This side of Terry Labonte’s No. 32 race car would have commemorated Labonte’s first championship run in 1984.
This side of Terry Labonte’s No. 32 race car would have commemorated his 1996 championship season.