Ever since Bobby Labonte and the former Petty Enterprises went their separate ways near the end of last year, there has been plenty of speculation on just where Labonte would end up. His name immediately began being associated with the few seats in the series that hadn’t been filled for the 2009 Sprint Cup season.
Most of those seats were later filled, leaving Labonte with few choices, and most observers felt he would eventually sign with the newly-formed Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and Ganassi Racing had joined forces in an effort to both improve their on-track performance as well as just survive the tough economic times that were hanging over the series as the 2008 season came to a close.
Earnhardt-Ganassi is expected to field three teams this season, but all three teams still have plenty of questions that need to be answered before the season gets underway next month. Their #42 team with driver Juan Pablo Montoya seems to be shaping up as the flagship of the organization because not only does it have a driver in place, it also has the most sponsorship dollars of the three teams. The #41 team is still looking for a driver and while the once proud #8 team that fielded cars for Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a driver in Aric Armirola, it doesn’t have a sponsor.
Labonte was linked with the #8 team in hopes he could attract enough sponsor dollars to allow the team to race full time this season. Signing on with Earnhardt- Ganassi would have basically put him in the same situation he just left with Petty Enterprises.
The 2000 Sprint Cup champion shocked the sport when he recently announced that he would be racing full time for Hall of Fame Racing beginning with the 2009 Daytona 500. It was the second big announcement for Hall of Fame as it also recently announced that it was entering into a partnership with Yates Racing.
The partnership moves Hall of Fame’s #96 team into Yates’s shop, which last season fielded the #28 for Travis Kvapil and the #38 for David Gilliland. Yates had already added a third team for this season when Paul Menard moved over from Dale Earnhardt Inc. All of the teams that now call Yates’s shop home will compete in a Ford. Last season, Hall of Fame used Toyotas and Menard competed in a Chevrolet.
Yates Racing has a working relationship with Roush-Fenway Racing that allowed it to be competitive enough to put both of its cars in the top-35 at the end of last season. That accomplishment was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Yates raced the entire year without a full-time sponsor on either entry.
Sponsorship will not be a problem with Hall of Fame as it picked up Ask.com as a sponsor for 18 of the first 21 races of the season and still had in place a sponsorship with DLP Texas instruments that has been with the team since it began competing in the series three years ago. What could be a problem for the team is that it didn’t finish in the top-35 in owner’s points at the end of last season, which means it has to qualify on speed for at least the first five races.
Menard’s team also will not have a guaranteed starting spot in the first five races of the season but Yates does have some wiggle room as far as starting positions go. Kvapil and Gilliland’s top-35 finishes last season guarantee them a starting spot for the first five races but both lack sponsorship for this season. After racing last season without a primary sponsor for either team, Yates has said that he will not compete with either team if they don’t have a sponsor.
Labonte does have a past champion’s provisional to fall back on while Yates will take the owner’s points from Gilliland’s team and give them to Menard for this season. That would guarantee all three cars out of Yates’s shop would start the first five races of the season. That at least gives all three teams a chance to stay in the top 35 and race at each stop on the schedule, which in return might attract more sponsors that could ultimately lead to an increase in their on-track success.