Is this Sunday really the end for Terry Labonte? He says yes, it is

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Two-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series (now Sprint Cup Series) champion Terry Labonte retired for the first time in November of 2006 after one last race at his home track of Texas Motor Speedway.

But even back then, it would seem he left himself a bit of an out in case he got the itch again.

“I just don’t really have no desire to do it,” he told Mike Harris of the Associated Press in an Nov. 1, 2006 piece. “Maybe after I sit out for a while, I might change my mind or start missing it or something but, as of right now, I sure am looking forward to life after the Texas race.”

Of course, Labonte changed his mind. Having already gone to a limited racing schedule in 2005, he’s simply stayed on that course with 41 races run over the last eight Sprint Cup seasons.

But today, “Texas Terry” said that Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway will mark the end of his Cup career – for real, this time.

“Of course, 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,” he said today at ‘Dega. “It’s been fun.”

Labonte will finish out a scheduled, four-race run on the superspeedways this season for GO FAS Racing, which is owned by longtime crew chief and NASCAR on NBC analyst Frank Stoddard.

As far as special commemorations of his 890th and final Cup start, Labonte said he wasn’t expecting anything big but would like to have “a neat picture of it afterwards.”

Labonte won his first Cup championship in 1984 for owner Billy Hagan, but is perhaps most remembered by the current generation of NASCAR faithful for his second crown in 1996 as a member of Hendrick Motorsports.

His Hendrick tenure also featured the car he’ll likely be most remembered for driving – the red, yellow, and green No. 5 Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Chevy, with “Cornelius” the rooster riding faithfully on the hood. But in addition to Hagan and Hendrick, Labonte has also raced for the likes of Richard Petty, Joe Gibbs, and Junior Johnson.

Barring something miraculous on Sunday, Labonte’s 22nd and final Cup win will likely be the 2003 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. However, it’s his 21st win – a triumph at Texas in 1999 – that he considers as his favorite.

“That’s the first time I think I ever noticed a crowd,” he recalled. “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.'”

It’d be nice to see the ‘Dega crowd on Sunday give him one more big cheer.