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LABONTE IN RACE NO. 600

Times wires

DAYTONA BEACH - Bobby Labonte hit a milestone at Daytona International Speedway.

Labonte made his 600th start in NASCAR's top series when the green flag dropped Saturday night for the 400-mile race.

Labonte is 20th on the career list, well back of seven-time series champion Richard Petty's record of 1,185 starts. Labonte's older brother, Terry, had 867 starts from 1978 until last year.

"Having 600 starts, wow!" said Labonte, who served as grand marshal. "That is a lot of racing. It is just an honor and a privilege to be able to have that many races under my belt."

Labonte is driving this weekend and next for Phoenix Racing. He's piloting the No.09 Chevrolet for team owner James Finch, who won the spring race at Talladega last year with Brad Keselowski behind the wheel.

"I'm not racing just to hit milestones or anything like that," said Labonte, who made his Cup debut in 1991.

JUNIOR ADAMANT: If there were any doubt about Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s future in the No.3 Chevrolet, the driver made it abundantly clear Friday night. There is none.

Earnhardt won Friday's Nationwide series race, the Subway 250, at Daytona in what he swears will be his last trip in a car bearing that number. In 2002, Earnhardt drove No.3 Chevys twice and won once - at Daytona - but those cars didn't resemble any of the ones his father drove in terms of sponsors or color schemes.

The No.3 Wrangler car Earnhardt took to Victory Lane this time was a dead ringer for the Chevy that seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove for Richard Childress from 1984-87.

"I will never do it," Earnhardt said after the race when asked about a return engagement with the No.3, citing the pressure that comes with it. "I'll never rethink it. I'll never consider it."

GOODYEAR'S MESSAGE: For the first time, Goodyear changed its sidewall design on tires used in NASCAR. The company brought tires to Daytona with a patriotic color scheme that read "Support Our Troops" on the sidewall. The company also donated $20,000 to a leading military support program. The tires are making their debut this weekend.

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