Todd Parrott didn’t have time to lobby to be reunited with driver Bobby Labonte once he heard that Labonte could drive a Yates Racing car in 2009.
That’s because when he heard that Labonte would be driving a Yates Racing car through an alliance with Hall of Fame Racing, it was when Yates Racing general manager Max Jones told him Jan. 13 that he was going to be Labonte’s crew chief.
“I didn’t know anything about it until the day they signed the deal,” Parrott said in a phone interview with NASCAR Scene Friday. “It was a total surprise. Max Jones called me in the office one night and said we’ve got some changes and this was taking place.
“I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’ And he said, ‘Nope, I’m not kidding.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s awesome.’ ”
Parrott worked with Labonte for the first part of the 2006 season, when both were with Petty Enterprises, before returning to the Yates organization where he won the 1999 Cup title as crew chief for Dale Jarrett and also had worked with Ernie Irvan and Elliott Sadler.
“We’ve talked every weekend,” Parrott said about his relationship with Labonte since leaving Petty. “When I left Pettys, I left on a good note. … It was a hard decision for me to make. It was all about my family and my kids, spending more time with them and being closer to home.
“We’ve communicated and talked and sent text messages ever since then.”
The 2000 Cup champion Labonte is looking forward to working again with Parrott and said there were no hard feelings from the last split.
“As much as he made us better and made me better, Yates was kind of his family,” Labonte said. “It was kind of hard that he left, but at the same time you understand. He wanted to be back home.
“It was a long drive for him every day and it was tough. So we’ve got some unfinished business to do. I thought we did really good while he was there and we’ve got a lot more resources and between me and him, I hope we’re a lot smarter and ready for this go-around just as we were last time.”
Crew chief for Travis Kvapil last year, Parrott and his entire team will work with Labonte this season. Parrott said he doesn’t have to change the cars for Labonte.
“His seats and pedals and all that stuff are basically the only changes we’ll make,” he said. “Our chassis and setups will be no different than when Travis was in the car.”
The Yates organization is scrambling a little bit with the addition of the No. 96 car. While Hall of Fame still owns the entry, it will be run out of the Yates’ shop and that organization will make the calls on the day-to-day operation of the car. Yates, with that addition, will field at least three cars in the first five races of 2009 and hopes to run all three for a full season. Paul Menard is driving the No. 98 full-time car and Kvapil is driving the No. 28 car, which doesn’t yet have sponsorship.
Yates Racing is entering its second year under the ownership of Jones and Doug Yates. Last season, Yates Racing put drivers Kvapil and David Gilliland in the top 30 in points despite not having full sponsorship.
“[Labonte’s] feel within a race car will be one thing [that will help]," Parrott said. "His background and mentality, how to finish races, how to win championships and those sort of things for Travis and Paul will be a big help. It’s going to add a lot of depth.”
Not only should the addition of Labonte help, but the team has primary sponsorship from Ask.com for 29 races. That, along with Menard bringing his family sponsorship, should add to the comfort level for a team that didn’t have primary sponsorship for many races last year.
“We did a great job last year with Travis,” Parrott said. “We had a bunch of different sponsors. When you go to the race track with a white car, there are a lot of uncertainties and questions that guys within the team ask [about] whether they are going to have jobs."
At the end of last season, Parrott wasn’t even sure what he would be doing in 2009. The team spent a couple of weeks evaluating its programs and it wasn’t clear where Parrott stood.
“My offseason has been like a roller coaster,” Parrott said. “Not really knowing after Homestead what exactly I would be doing. Now that they made this announcement three weeks before we go to Daytona of Bobby Labonte is pretty crazy.”
The 44-year-old Parrott considers the Labonte team a Chase contender.
“Bobby is a great race car driver,” Parrott said. “We want to win some races. With the success we had with Travis finishing 23rd in points, we could have very easily been in the top 20 had it not been for a couple of mistakes we made as a first-year team.
“The top 12, I don’t think you can say it’s out of reach.” - www.scenedaily.com