Labonte to drive No. 71

Updated: September 3, 2009, 1:46 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bobby Labonte, unhappy with being pulled from the No. 96 Hall of Fame/Yates Racing car earlier this week in favor of Erik Darnell, didn't sit idle for long.

The 2000 Sprint Cup champion will attempt to qualify the No. 71 Chevrolet for TRG Motorsports for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, according to the latest entry list.

Labonte, whose 568 consecutive Sprint Cup starts is the second-longest current streak behind Jeff Gordon's 569 and eighth-longest in Cup history, also will drive for TRG in the other six races in which he will be replaced by Darnell at Hall of Fame/Yates. At TRG, he will replace David Gilliland, who was on the original entry list for the No. 71.

[Yates Racing] made a decision that they believe is in the best interest of their business moving forward. We think the world of Bobby. It was never a consideration for us to take him out of the car.

-- Tom Garfinkel of Hall of Fame racing

Under normal circumstances Labonte would guarantee the No. 71 in the Atlanta field, as the most recent past champion. But because he was a late entry, that does not apply. It will apply in future races for TRG.

Tom Garfinkel, the co-owner of Hall of Fame Racing, wished Labonte well in the No. 71 and made it clear the decision to pull him from the No. 96 was completely a Yates Racing decision. "They made a decision that they believe is in the best interest of their business moving forward," he said. "We think the world of Bobby. It was never a consideration for us to take him out of the car."

Yates Racing officials were not available to comment on the decision to pull Labonte.

Sources said Yates Racing wanted to pull Labonte from all 12 remaining races, but contractually could not do so because five of those races belonged to HOF.

Labonte has not been available for comment since being replaced. Multiple sources close to the situation said he was not pleased with the move.

Garfinkel said prior to this move, HOF was in discussions with several other organizations for next season, adding it was unlikely the team would continue its alliance with Yates Racing.

He said the plan is to move forward with Labonte as the driver and Ask.com as the sponsor, noting negotiations with Ask.com and a couple of other sponsors are close to being finalized.

"In terms of Bobby, we think an awful lot of him," Garfinkel said. "We still think he can win races. He's a champion in and out of the car. We're having conversations with him about next year. As we get our plans finalized we want to see Bobby a part of that."

Garfinkel said HOF has no plans of leaving the sport.

"We're hoping to find a partner that is long-term and one that can be competitive," he said.

Labonte is 30th in points in the No. 96, with only one top-10 finish in 24 starts.

"We're not any more disappointed than the folks at Yates," Garfinkel said of the team's performance. "I know everyone at Yates has worked hard and is doing everything they can to be competitive."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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