Loudon: Terry Labonte 800th start interview

TERRY LABONTE, NO. 5 KELLOGG'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO Note: Labonte will make his 800th career start in Sunday's Seimens 300, with 18 of those having come on Loudon's 1.058-mile oval. The two-time champion is fifth on NASCAR's all-time list - ...

TERRY LABONTE, NO. 5 KELLOGG'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO

Note: Labonte will make his 800th career start in Sunday's Seimens 300, with 18 of those having come on Loudon's 1.058-mile oval. The two-time champion is fifth on NASCAR's all-time list - behind Richard Petty (1,177), Dave Marcis (882), Ricky Rudd (821), and Darrell Waltrip (809).

THIS IS A PRETTY IMPRESSIVE RECORD. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE AMASSED 800 STARTS IN THIS SPORT?

"It's just something you never really think about when you start out. You never really think, 'Oh boy, I want to run 800 races.' That just never comes to your mind. It's a lot of races. I've been fortunate to be able to do this for a long time. The only thing that ticks me about it a little bit is when I got hurt and missed a couple of races (Indianapolis and Watkins Glen in 2000) because it broke my consecutive streak. Looking back at it now, I'm a little disappointed because of that. At the time I wasn't, but I still know I made the right decision by not running those races, but still, I hate that it happened. It would have been even neater to have a consecutive streak like that.

"You probably won't see a lot of people run that many that come into our sport today. You won't see many of them run that many races. It's too hectic and there are too many demands and people point you in too many directions and it's harder than it used to be."

ASIDE FROM GOOD HEALTH, WHAT HAS ENABLED YOU TO RUN 800 RACES?

"I've been with good teams over the years - good owners and good teams. That's the key."

WHAT'S BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE SPORT?

"We've seen a lot of things change. The crowds, naturally, have gotten much bigger. The television coverage has gotten much bigger. There are many new race tracks and markets - that's probably been the biggest things that's helped our sport. By going to markets and places like Indy and Chicago and Kansas and Texas and Southern California have enabled us to take our sport to a lot of new fans that had only watched it on TV but now can see it in person. That's been the biggest thing. The TV viewership is bigger. It's bigger on networks than it was on cable."

WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED RACING AT DARLINGTON, DID YOU EVER THINK THE SERIES WOULD RACE HERE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE?

"I still can't believe we race here at New Hampshire (laughs). They have a tremendous crowd up here. It's an unbelievable crowd. The people pack the place. But no, when I ran my first race down there at Darlington and went to some of the races at the old Nashville Speedway and even the old Texas World Speedway, I never would have imagined it would grow into what it is today."

WHAT ONE THING STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND AS THE MOST EXCITING OF 800 RACES?

"Actually, it was last week (July 10) at Chicago when Justin won his very first Busch race. That was bigger than any win I've ever had, without a doubt. It's because I know how hard he wants to do it and I know how hard he's worked to get to where he is and I know how difficult it is. It probably wouldn't have meant as much to me as a father if I wasn't in this sport, because I know how hard it is."

AS A VETERAN, HOW DO TODAY'S YOUNGER DRIVERS COMPARE TO WHEN YOU CAME INTO THE SPORT?

"I think that 90 percent of them are good kids and they do a good job. I think they realize they have a big opportunity here and they try to do the right thing. I think the majority of them look up to the veterans and have a lot of respect for them. There might be a couple of them that don't. You always have that. There are some young guys coming up today that have a tremendous amount of talent and that have their heads on straight."

IF TODAY'S DRIVERS NEVER REACH 800 STARTS, WHAT WOULD BE REALISTIC CAREER GOALS FOR THEM?

"Naturally any time you can win races and win a championship, that's key. But today, if you win just one championship it's quite an accomplishment. It's hard to say. I think it would be quite an accomplishment to win either a Busch championship or a Cup championship. Those are extremely difficult to win. Justin has won championships. It's just a different level for him to compete in. He's been successful in every series he's raced in. The equipment and money are different here."

IS THE MONEY ANOTHER BIG CHANGE YOU'VE SEEN OVER THE YEARS?

"Oh, yeah. In 1984 when we won the championship, our (total) sponsorship was $850,000 for the year. That would get you about four races today. The overall cost of it (competing in this sport) has skyrocketed. It has for the fans and everything. The costs of traveling and hotels have gone up. All the costs for the teams and owners and everybody have really gone through the roof."

WHAT'S YOUR OPINION OF THE GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED RULE?

"All you have to do is look at last weekend's truck race and I think that pretty much sums it up. All that does is give the guy who is running second the opportunity to take out the guy leading, and the guy running fourth to take out the guy who is running third. Nothing good is going to come out of it. They would have been better off to try and do like they were doing to try and get the cautions sped up. If it ends under caution, it ends under caution. Nobody wants to see it end under caution, but you don't need to add laps to the race. I don't care if it's one lap or 10 laps. I can guarantee you that the true race fans don't like it. The people that like to come and watch the wrecks, love it."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Terry Labonte , Dave Marcis , Richard Petty