Bobby Labonte may be out of his Sprint Cup ride at Yates Racing, which operates the #96 Ford for Hall of Fame Racing, but that doesn't mean he will miss this Sunday's Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Indeed the 2000 Cup champion will compete with TRG Motorsports, after being offered a ride in the #71 Chevrolet. He replaces David Gilliland.
"This whole thing came together over the last 24 hours," Labonte explained. "Slugger [Richard "Slugger" Labbe, TRG Motorsports crew chief] called me yesterday morning and had an idea and wondered if I would be interested or not.
"I had some openings I wasn't planning on, so it just kind of worked out. I am just trying to go to the rest of the races full-tilt. I talked to Kevin [Buckler TRG Motorsports team principal] a couple of times yesterday and he seems very committed and I think it will work out for both of us.
"I have run the Daytona Prototypes in the Grand-Am Series a couple of times. I have seen the TRG group at the race track. I have seen Kevin and his crowd of Porsches sitting there, which is really impressive. I know he came into the truck series last year. This year they moved up to the Sprint Cup Series. They have done well with the resources they have. The people that I have talked with have a lot of respect for Kevin and the team, because they are doing the most with the limited amount of resources they have.
"I have seen a lot of guys come into the sport and spend a lot of money, but they don't last long. Kevin and his group are taking the right approach. There is no waste of money and they plan to be here a while, which is healthy for the team and a smart way to do things."
Yates Racing announced Monday that Labonte and Erik Darnell would share the #96 car for the rest of the year, with Darnell competing in seven of the final 12 races, including Sunday at Atlanta, where he'll make his Cup debut.
The move by TRG will keep Labonte's streak of consecutive starts in the Cup series alive. Labonte's streak stands at 568 races, eighth on the all-time list; only Jeff Gordon (569 starts) has a longer active streak.
Labonte will drive for TRG in the seven events he will miss for Yates - at Atlanta, New Hampshire, Kansas, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead - with Gilliland running in the remaining five.
Labonte's car at Yates was unsponsored for those seven events, whereas Darnell was able to bring sponsorship from Academy Sports & Outdoors and Northern Tools, the latter of which sponsors Darnell's Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series efforts at Roush Fenway Racing.
Labonte will not have access to the past champion's provisional for the Atlanta race, given that his move to the #71 car took place after the entry deadline. The past champion's provisional accrues to the car owner, only if the driver is entered 'for that owner in that car' before the entry deadline, according to NASCAR's rulebook. Labonte will have to qualify on speed Saturday.
by Reid Spencer / Sporting News