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Labonte’s departure another sign of trouble for Petty team
Two years ago, the arrival of driver Bobby Labonte at Petty Enterprises was touted as another huge component in the rebuilding of the Sprint Cup series’ most victorious team.

On Tuesday, the announcement that Labonte was leaving Petty serves as another signal that the team’s rebuilding effort is on the verge of collapse.

Labonte, the 2000 Sprint Cup champion, said Thursday that he and the Pettys have split and that at the moment, he has no ride for the 2009 season.

“Petty Enterprises and I had serious and very sincere discussions about what was best for myself and everyone involved at Petty Enterprises moving forward,” Labonte said in a statement. “These discussions culminated with us agreeing that moving in a separate direction will be the greatest way to reach our end goals. It was by no means an easy decision.”

Labonte has 21 Cup victories. He has finished in the top 10 in Cup points seven times. He has driven for four Cup teams during his 15 years in the series.

Labonte moved from Joe Gibbs Racing, the team for which he won his championship, to the Pettys after the 2005 season. The move, at the time, was viewed as huge for a team that had not won a race since 1999.

Shortly after the hiring, Kyle Petty, said, “We believe Bobby can win races — and will win races — in the 43 car.”

Labonte, who has steadfastly rejected the description of team savior, never did get a Petty car to victory lane.

Last year, General Mills, the sponsor of Labonte’s car, announced it was moving to the Clint Bowyer-driven Richard Childress Racing team. No replacement has been found.

In an effort to increase cash flow, Petty Enterprises was sold to Boston Ventures last year. Rumors have persisted in recent weeks that Petty Enterprises was in talks to merge with Evernham Motorsports. On Thursday, those rumors were confirmed by the Petty team.

“We expect these discussions and decisions to take several weeks and will have further comment at the appropriate time,” David Zucker, chief executive officer of Petty Enterprises, said. “Gillett Evernham Motorsports is a first-class team with great drivers, sponsors and management.” Kansas City Star

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