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NASCAR Fans E-mail List Tony Stewart to become Labontes Team mate Tony Stewart, the 26-year-old Indy-car racer and Sprint car star who became one of the hottest newcomers to stock-car racing last year, will become a Winston Cup tour regular...

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Tony Stewart to become Labontes Team mate

Tony Stewart, the 26-year-old Indy-car racer and Sprint car star who became one of the hottest newcomers to stock-car racing last year, will become a Winston Cup tour regular next season as Bobby Labonte's teammate on the Joe Gibbs' Pontiac team. The announcement has been scheduled for next week but the signing has already occurred.

WILLY T. RIBBS, who first made his mark in NASCAR some 20 years ago, says he's ready to try a comeback on the stock-car tour. Ribbs, who was at one time one of the country's premier black race drivers, says he's surprised to hear about the General Motors effort to establish a minority-owned Winston Cup team. ''Somebody's trying to steal my thunder,'' Ribbs said.

RICHARD PETTY says NASCAR's Winston Cup tour could eventually feature as many as 45 major events. And he predicted Charlotte Motor Speedway might eventually be the only NASCAR stop in North Carolina, because of sponsorship pressures to take the sport away from the Carolinas into more major markets.

KENNY IRWIN could be Rusty Wallace's teammate next season, and Wallace expects to make a decision within the next week about whether or not to run a two-car team.

THE DRIVER-SWAPPING rumors have already begun, with Ernie Irvan's name at the top of the list with a question mark. ''Once it starts, with the possibility a driver like Ernie getting out of a car like Robert Yates', then everybody starts thinking 'Hey, maybe I can get in that car,' '' Jimmy Spencer says. Sterling Marlin and Bobby Labonte are said to be high on Yates' list, if he makes a change. Texaco officials are privately saying Johnny Benson is another man on Yates' list. However, Irvan says he expects to sign a new contract with Yates ''within the next couple of weeks.'' And Irvan dismisses speculation that Felix Sabates tried to offer Yates Robby Gordon for Ernie Irvan.

IF NASCAR SCRAPPED the restrictor plates, drivers would be running about 230 mph, according to Robin Pemberton, Rusty Wallace's crew chief. ''You could run 220 easy, and probably 230 . . . though that would be a death-defying feat,'' Pemberton said. ''Bill Elliott ran 212 mph unrestricted here 10 years ago, we've probably gained 80 to 100 horsepower in our unrestricted engines since then, and our cars have probably gained 50 horsepower in aerodynamics,'' Pemberton said. ''That's 130 to 150 more horsepower, and if you figure eight horsepower equals a mile an hour, that'd be 15 to 20 mph more speed.

WILL GOODYEAR ENGINEERS, now that the company has signed an exclusive contract with NASCAR, be able to design slower tires, and stop the escalation of speed on the Winston Cup tour? Are smaller, 9 1/2 -inch tires possibility? ''That's a possibility,'' Goodyear's Phil Holmer said. ''But I haven't heard anybody talking about that. And I don't want to commit to something like that. ''Our philosophy since 1994 (the end of the tire war) has been two-fold, to consolidate the number of tire designs we need, and to provide safe tires. ''Every time we've tried to go with 'harder' compounds it's backfired on us, say two notches harder than they ought to be. ''We made a slower tire at Daytona this year, though everybody ignored it. The object, though, was to provide more stability in the draft. Same thing here.''

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Ernie Irvan , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Jimmy Spencer , Sterling Marlin , Robby Gordon , Johnny Benson , Robert Yates