Yates releases crew chiefs

Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Robert Yates Racing released crew chiefs Tommy Baldwin and Slugger Labbe from their contracts Monday, adding to the turmoil that has recently befallen the once-proud team.
Their dismissal comes at a chaotic time. Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler are both leaving at the end of the season, giving Yates two empty seats to fill and a lack of quality drivers to choose from.
Yates gave no reason for the crew chief departures, announcing only that Cully Barraclough would take over Sadler's team and Butch Hylton will be in charge of Jarrett's team beginning with this Sunday's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Baldwin wasn't job hunting for long. He was quickly snatched up by Bill Davis Racing, where he'll be competition director and oversee the teams' switch to Toyotas in 2007. He spent four seasons working for Davis as a crew chief, but left for a short stint as crew chief with Evernham Motorsports and most recently with Yates.
"This is an exciting time at Bill Davis Racing and I can't wait to be a part of it," Baldwin said. "To have the opportunity to play a key role in the successful introduction of Toyota to the Cup Series is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"I'm glad to be back home." Labbe's immediate plans were not announced.
But their departure from Yates marks a full-scale housecleaning for the organization. General manager Eddie D'Hondt was fired in May, shortly after Jarrett said he was leaving to drive a Toyota for Michael Waltrip next season.
Then Sadler opted out of his contract two weeks ago, saying he didn't like the direction the team was headed.
Despite the upheaval, both Baldwin and Labbe professed confidence in RYR the same day Sadler said he was leaving. But now they, too, are gone and Yates has many help-wanted signs posted in the shop window.
Yates has been talking to Busch driver David Gilliland about one of his Cup seats, and the two appeared to have reached an agreement Monday when Gilliland's Busch team said it was closing its doors.
"We put our heart, soul and resources into David Gilliland," team owner Clay Andrews said in a statement. "Personally and financially we do not feel it is best to move forward at this time."
Yates is also auditioning 19-year-old Stephen Leicht for his other seat. Leicht will attempt to make Sunday's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway his second Cup start.
  • BUSCH SERIES: The Busch Series team that put David Gilliland on the NASCAR map folded Monday, an indication that the upstart driver has accepted a better ride.
    Gilliland shocked the NASCAR world by winning the Busch race at Kentucky Speedway in June driving for Clay Andrews Racing, a part-time team. The victory earned Gilliland numerous offers from top-level organizations, and he said two weeks ago that he was talking to 10 different car owners.
    Andrews apparently saw it as a sign that he couldn't keep the 30-year-old Gilliland and decided to close his operation.
    "We put our heart, soul and resources into David Gilliland," Andrews said in a statement. "Personally and financially we do not feel it is best to move forward at this time."
    Gilliland, meanwhile, appears to be headed to one of Robert Yates Racing's empty Nextel Cup seats. He will make his debut with that team in Saturday night's Busch race in Indianapolis, driving the No. 90 Ford.
    Yates has two seats to fill now that Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler are both leaving at the end of the season. The car owner is considering 19-year-old Stephen Leicht for one of the rides, and Leicht made his Cup debut two weeks ago at Pocono Raceway. He finished 36th.
    Gilliland had a storied West Coast-racing career when he moved to North Carolina in January to give NASCAR a shot with Andrews. The startup team had no sponsor and lacked the funds run the full Busch schedule.
    He missed the first race he tried to qualify for, mustered only a career-best 29th-place finish in the next four events, then failed to make the May race in Charlotte.
    But he finally broke through in Kentucky when he became the first non-Nextel Cup driver to win a Busch event in 18 races dating back to last November.
    He's been fielding offers ever since, leaving Andrews little hope of keeping him.
    Andrews, though, vowed to give NASCAR another try.
    "We hope to be back in about three years," he said. "I have my eye on a young, but very talented driver that I would love to bring back into the Busch Series."
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