- Angelique S. Chengelis, NASCAR
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Nextel Cup team owner Robert Yates and Ford, it seems, have been linked for years.
And it will remain that way.
Yates has signed a five-year extension with the manufacturer, he told ESPN.com today. There will be a formal announcement on Friday at Dover International Raceway.
"What it says to me is that Ford intends to win on Sundays and Mondays, and they're committed," Yates said. "We're happy they're happy with us. It's nice we have signed the thing."
This ends any speculation that Robert Yates Racing was looking elsewhere. What the five-year deal offers Yates is some stability and credibility as he continues talks with potential business partners.
"The fact is, it's organizational racing now and not individual racing," Yates said. "We have been talking to different people and they ask, 'What manufacturer are you with? How strong is that? How long term is it?' [This contract] puts a lot to bed. We have a good relationship with Ford, and we continue to."
Clearly, Yates is upbeat about the future. He said his team is financially healthy with "zero debt and quite a lot of money in the bank," he said.
"I'm OK, but what I want to do is race and win," Yates said.
He said the team has been through difficult times, but he and Ford believe the tables are turning.
"We have to get our performance up," said Yates, for whom Ricky Rudd and David Gilliland drive. "We have a lot of work to do, a lot of rebuilding to do. Looking back, we've made a lot of messes. Losing D.J. [Dale Jarrett to Toyota and Michael Waltrip Racing] was a hard day for us.
"We've had a lot of business-crashing events. Can we build it back? We hope so, and Ford thinks so."
There was a much-publicized flirtation between Robert Yates Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc., about a month ago, but there was an obvious conflict -- Yates had always been a Ford devotee, and DEI owner Teresa Earnhardt has made it clear she has deep Chevrolet ties she is unlikely to break.
This doesn't mean Yates has stopped looking for a business partner or the potential to merge with another team. He's just not ready to say what is next for his team.
"We do have some people looking," he said. "We probably will do some type of thing. We're looking at two or three things that are a little different that should give us some 'wow' factor."
For now, though, Yates is simply happy to have one deal done and is thrilled to remain in the Ford stable.
"We haven't earned everything that they've given us, and we have to improve our performance, but I'm happy," Yates said. "I sort of started my life with [Ford], and hopefully it will extend my life."
Angelique S. Chengelis is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage.
5hLaurence Edmondson and Nate Saunders