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.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.