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Labonte gets seven-race TRG deal

Bobby LabonteBobby Labonte hopes to keep his streak of consecutive starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series alive after signing a seven-race deal to drive for TRG Motorsports, starting next weekend at Atlanta.

Earlier this week it was announced that Labonte would step out of the #96 Hall of Fame Ford for seven of the 12 races remaining this year, to give way to Sprint Cup rookie Erik Darnell, who got the drive thanks to a sponsorship deal that affiliated team Roush Fenway Racing secured for him.

Labonte, a former Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series champion, will now have the chance to compete at those events at the wheel of the #71 TGR Chevrolet, which has been driven by David Gilliland this season.

"This whole thing came together over the last 24 hours," Labonte said. "'Slugger' [TRG crew chief Richard Labbe] called me yesterday morning and had an idea and wondered if I would be interested or not. I had some openings I wasn't planning on, so it just kind of worked out.

"I am just trying to go to the rest of the races full-tilt. I talked to Kevin [Buckler TRG team boss] a couple of times yesterday and he seems very committed and I think it will work out for both of us."

Labonte will thus have the opportunity to compete at what is statistically his best track, as he leads all active drivers with six victories at Atlanta Motor Speedway. However he will need to qualify on time for the event as his entry is outside the top-35 in the owners' standings.

Despite Labonte's past champion status, his name was not on the preliminary entry list, which means he loses his automatic entry as the most recent past champion entering this weekend's race.

"When we heard that Bobby would be available we got in touch with him to explore the scenarios," Buckler said. "Bobby is such an icon in the sport and has so much experience to lend to a new team like ours.

"We have a strong nucleus of guys with good chemistry and I think Bobby will fit right in. We will put him in good equipment with a committed and super competitive team of guys and we'll see what happens. I think he will shine."

Gilliland is expected to return behind the wheel of the #71 car in the five other events where Labonte returns to Hall of Fame Racing.

Labonte ranks second among current drivers in the list of consecutive starts in the Sprint Cup series with 568 uninterrupted appearances, only one less than Jeff Gordon, who leads this statistic.

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