FONTANA, Calif. – Richard Childress acknowledged that his organization is close to fielding a fourth team in the Sprint Cup Series, and Yahoo! Sports has learned that the driver of that car beginning in 2009 likely will be Bobby Labonte.
Sources close to the deal point to General Mills, Labonte's current sponsor with Petty Enterprises, coming along with him to RCR.
According to Childress, he will field a fourth car sometime this season, though he wouldn't set an exact time frame. He did say things were progressing well and that he was pleased with how plans were coming together.
"We're looking at entering a few races before the end of the season," Childress said.
Childress entered a fourth car (the No. 33) in selected races in 2007 with Scott Wimmer as the driver. Wimmer likely is the choice to be behind the wheel when the car makes it back onto the track this season. However, Labonte likely will be the full-time driver in 2009.
When asked to comment on adding a fourth team to RCR, Kevin Harvick admitted he wasn't privy to all the details, but he saw it as a necessary move.
"It's something you need to do just to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak," Harvick said.
Hiring Labonte would be an ace up the sleeve for RCR. Labonte is a past champion, which means he would get a champion's provisional that would guarantee him a spot in the field at the start of the '09 season.
Labonte already has a relationship with Childress, having signed with RCR this year to drive the No. 21 Nationwide car on a part-time basis this season.
Still wary of Gordon
During a Sprint Cup race, quite often you will overhear many veteran drivers in the field ask their spotters to keep them apprised of the whereabouts of the No. 7 driven by Robby Gordon.
As a person, Gordon is well-liked in the garage for being a maverick and challenging NASCAR. However, once behind the wheel, Gordon takes on a different persona.
Kasey Kahne, Gordon's teammate at Gillett Evernham Motorsports, said, "When he's around, you have to race differently. He has a different style of racing that is really aggressive."
Kahne added that Gordon often shows that aggression by pushing a driver into making a mistake.
"He does things that won't work," Kahne said. "If somebody steps up and says, 'I won't take that,' then you're going to have a wreck. So you either have a wreck, or you take it and pass him back on the next corner and go on with your day."
Fellow GEM teammate Elliott Sadler agreed with Kahne's assessment of Gordon's style but said he never had an issue with Gordon on the track.
And Sadler doesn't expect that will change now that Gordon is a teammate.
"(Robby) is coming into a real good situation over here with three guys who really care for each other," said Sadler. "I hope he fits right with the style where we really try and look out for each other."
Kahne echoed Sadler's remarks.
"I think that Robby's the type of guy who wants to be a teammate and wants to be part of our company," said Kahne. "He's gonna want to race us like he wants us to race him. If that happens, we're not going to have any problems at all."
I'll be back
The International Speedway Corp. announced on Friday a 10-year sponsorship agreement with the Automobile Club of Southern California that will see the name of California Speedway changed to Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.
Auto Club CEO Tom McKernan said the speedway offers an excellent opportunity for his club to market itself and become more involved with the community, including the opening of a new teen and mature driver school at the track.
The Southern California-based auto club boasts a membership of more than six million car owners in California.
At the same time, track president Gillian Zucker announced a series of capital improvements over the next year, all aimed at providing a more fan-friendly environment.
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was on hand as track officials made the announcement, touting the track as a valuable financial asset to the state as well as the local community.
Schwarzenegger then admitted that he always has had a fondness for the Fontana area.
"We filmed parts of Terminator 2 at the steel plant next door to the track," he said.
In closing, the "Governator" added that he was looking forward to his return to the track in the near future.
"I'll be back," he said.
Bits and pieces
With his off-road truck and equipment still in Europe after this year's Dakar Rally was canceled, Robby Gordon will take advantage of the situation and compete in the Central Europe Rally 2008, which goes through Hungary and Romania from April 20 to April 26. … Spotted in the Cup garage was 1985 Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan along with one-time Nationwide driver Boston Reed. Reed, a former sprint car driver from Indiana, is looking to get back into NASCAR after an abbreviated stint as a Hendrick Motorsports development driver. That program was ended following the airplane crash in 2004 which took the lives of several of the key players in the development program, including Ricky Hendrick. Reed also was part of the Red Bull Driver Development program, which Sullivan directed in the United States.
- Richard Childress