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Yates to replace Labonte with Darnell for 7 NASCAR races




CHARLOTTE, N.C.

Former NASCAR champion Bobby Labonte won’t race this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his best track, because of sponsorship issues at Yates Racing.

The team had seven races to sell this season for the No. 96 Ford, and the sponsorship it secured wanted Erik Darnell in the car. The 26-year-old will make his Sprint Cup Series debut at Atlanta, where Labonte has six career victories.

“This is not about Bobby; it’s about making sure we have funding for these races,” Yates coowner Max Jones said Monday. “If it was about Bobby, I would have just put Erik in the car for the rest of the year. That was hard to convey to Bobby.

“But we have this opportunity to get Erik some races, and that’s the business part of this sport. It’s challenging.”

Academy Sports & Outdoors will sponsor Darnell for three races, at Atlanta, Talladega and Texas. Northern Tool & Equipment, who sponsored him last season in the Truck Series, will be on the car at New Hampshire and Kansas.

Sponsorship for the other two races Darnell is slated to run was not announced.

Jones said Labonte did not take the decision well.

“I wouldn’t have either if I was him,” Jones said. “He’s a class act, he’s a professional. I had to explain my side, why I was doing it, and he wasn’t happy about it. But he understood, and I respect that.”

Labonte, the 2000 series champion, left Petty Enterprises last season because he was unsure of its long-term stability. He put together a late deal with Hall of Fame Racing, the team owned by San Diego Padres owner Jeff Moorad and president Tom Garfinkel.


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