Just days after published reports had him heading to Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing’s #8 Chevrolet for 2009, Bobby Labonte is set to drive the # 96 Ford for Yates Racing.
Labonte’s #96 will be one of three cars fielded by Yates Racing this season, apparently leaving either Travis Kvapil or David Gilliland out of a ride. Sources close to the team tell Sirius Speedway that Gilliland will likely become the odd-man-out, with Labonte utilizing the 28th-place owner points accumulated by Gilliland's #38 Ford last season. Paul Menard has already been confirmed to drive the #98 Menard’s Ford for the team, beginning at Daytona next month.
As Sirius Speedway first reported Monday, Labonte’s new entry will be sponsored by Ask.com in at least 18 races. Ask.com has also inked a deal to be the “official search engine of NASCAR."
Today’s news marks the end of a hectic few months for Labonte, who parted company with Petty Enterprises at the end of last season, just months after signing a contract extension. He was widely reported to be negotiating with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing to drive either the #41 or #8 Chevrolet, but those negotiations ended almost immediately once news of the Yates/Hall Of Fame Racing alliance began to circulate. In fact, my sources say that Labonte phoned Earnhardt-Ganassi officials late yesterday morning to inform them of his decision, and to cancel a lunch meeting scheduled to discuss his move to the Earnhardt-Ganassi #8.
Officials at Yates Racing have declined to comment on either their newly announced alliance or Labnte's signing, apparently preferring to make a formal statement during NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour next week. Hall of Fame's Tom Garfinkle said, “We’ve been working closely with Ask.com for several weeks now. 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.”
Labonte said, “I’m excited to be part of what Ask.com is bringing to our sport. In a time like this, it’s great to see a sponsor come in with technology and ideas that will help all of the competitors in NASCAR, and enhance the experience for all of our fans, no matter which driver or team they cheer for."
In a strange twist, Labonte's decision to drive for Yates Racing could pave the way for Aric Almirola to steer the Earnhardt-Ganassi #8 Chevrolet, after all.