Bobby Labonte has found a new home for the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, although it's not where many expected the 2000 champion would end up. Hall of Fame Racing, which on Tuesday announced an alliance with Yates Racing, has signed the Texas native to pilot its No. 96 Ford Fusion.
Labonte, who left Petty Enterprises last month, had been rumored to drive one of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's Chevrolet's in 2009, but has instead made the surprising move to the Yates-operated team.
"With our new Yates partnership and having a true champion and class person in Bobby Labonte behind the wheel, we're expecting great things on the race track as well," said Tom Garfinkel, Hall of Fame Racing co-owner.
Garfinkel and Jeff Moorad will remain co-owners of Hall of Fame Racing, but will now work out of Yates' shop in Concord, N.C. The team had run Joe Gibbs Racing-prepared Toyotas in 2008 with a variety of drivers including JJ Yeley, Ken Schrader, Brad Coleman and Joey Logano, finishing 39th in the owner's standings.
With Labonte coming on board, he brings the coveted champion's provisional with him. The team could secure a guaranteed starting spot in the first five races, as long as more recent champion Tony Stewart won't need his. This, along with support from Ford Racing, will likely boost the team's chances for success.
"Jeff Moorad and I knew it would take time to construct the right model to improve our competitive position in the sport and we think we've come a long way to achieving that through our association with Yates Racing," Garfinkel added. "We're proud to be associated with Doug and Max and Ford Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series."
Hall of Fame Racing's new alignment brings the number of teams operated out of Yates' facility to four. Both 2008 drivers David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil are expected to return, while Paul Menard joined the organization in November.
"This partnership with Hall of Fame is a great stepping stone for the Yates organization," said Max Jones, co-owner and General Manager of Yates Racing. "Through this partnership, we are able to continue the expansion of our shop and field another Sprint Cup entry. We, along with Ford Racing, welcome Hall of Fame Racing and look forward to a very successful season."