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More NASCAR driver changes as season nears

The merry-go-round of driver changes continues in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with only one month until the season-opening Daytona 500.

Labonte Former Cup champion Bobby Labonte, who drove the iconic No. 43 Petty Enterprises Dodge last year, will now drive the No. 96 Ford owned by Hall of Fame Racing. In addition, struggling HOF aligned itself with Yates Racing, which will operate the Labonte team from Yates' Concord, N.C., complex.

What's still unclear is whether Riverside's David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil, who drove Yates' two Fords last year with spotty sponsorship, will be back for full seasons in 2009.

Petty, meanwhile, has a tentative deal to merge with Gillett Evernham Motorsports, and GEM's Reed Sorenson -- who came from Chip Ganassi's team -- is expected to drive the No. 43 Dodge.

GEM also said it's possible that Californian A.J. Allmendinger might drive the team's fourth car, whose number is as yet unknown, for at least a limited schedule this year after the merger is completed.

At one point, it also appeared GEM was interested in putting Allmendinger in its No. 19 Dodge driven by Elliott Sadler, prompting Sadler to say he was prepared to file suit to keep his ride. But GEM said last week that Sadler would remain in the car.

The one-car team of Furniture Row Racing, meanwhile, said it hired Regan Smith to drive its No. 78 Chevrolet. Smith was the Cup series' rookie of the year in 2008 and nearly won the fall race at Talladega. But after his former team, Dale Earnhardt Inc., agreed to merge with Ganassi's team, Smith was in danger of being on the sidelines this season.

And Max Siegel, DEI's head of global operations, plans to leave the team to take over NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, which aims to develop minority and female drivers in NASCAR.

-- Jim Peltz

Photo: NASCAR driver Bobby Labonte prior to the Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on April 27, 2008.  Credit: John Bazemore/Associated Press

 
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