TALLADEGA, Ala.—Terry Labonte sounded serious and sincere on Saturday morning at Talladega Superspeedway when he said Sunday’s GEICO 500 would be his last race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Labonte had contracted to run the four 2014 superspeedway races in Frank Stoddard’s No. 32 Ford, and Sunday’s event is the last on his schedule.
“Of course, you know it’s only about the third time I’ve said this is going to be my last race, but this is really going to be the last one,” Labonte said. “It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed running a few races on and off here the past few years with Frank and his team and C&J Energy as a sponsor.
“Those guys, C&J, are originally from Corpus Christi and headquartered in Houston now, so they’re guys I’ve known for a long time and it’s been fun to run a few races with them. I’ve always looked forward to coming to Talladega. We have a couple of wins down here and it’s a track, as everybody knows, if you stay out of trouble and stay on the lead lap you’ve got an opportunity for a decent finish.”
Labonte made his Cup debut at Darlington in 1978, and he waxed nostalgic when he recalled his first ride in Billy Hagan’s No. 92 Chevrolet.
“They had a rookie meeting and they showed a video that they played of all the things not to do,” Labonte recalled. “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 there and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, the car is identical. It’s the same paint scheme, same number, everything.’ 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.’”
That wasn’t the end of it. Labonte also had to prove himself on the race track before he could compete in the Southern 500.
“So they had a rookie test and we had to go run around the track, and you missed qualifying the first day. You had to qualify the second day, so I qualified, and the longest race I think I’d ever run was a 200-lapper around a half-mile track, so I started that race and I just ran and ran and thought, ‘My gosh these guys could wreck down here. Holy smoke.’ They tore up a bunch of cars, and it was typical Darlington. It was wild.
“So I ran and the race lasted forever. That was the longest race I ever ran in my life, so we ran the race and I finally looked up to see how many laps were left. I was trying to figure out how many laps were left and finally the thing ended and I never thought to look at the scoreboard and I finished fourth.”
Kenseth to the back
After a precautionary engine change on Saturday, Matt Kenseth will start from the rear of the field in Sunday’s GEICO 500.
Kenseth’s crew found issues in the bottom of the engine and made the change, rather than risk a failure during the race. Kenseth currently is ninth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, one point behind Kasey Kahne and one position away from transferring to the Eliminator Round of the Chase.
In Saturday afternoon’s knockout qualifying session, Kenseth was 13th, but his result in time trials affects only his choice of pit stalls, since the engine change requires that he drop to the rear for the start of the race.