CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Bobby Labonte will have a new crew chief starting this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

Ben Leslie, who had been the field manager for Ford Racing the past four-plus season, takes over the No. 96 Ford from Todd Parrott. The swap was made Wednesday by Yates Racing, which is trying to strengthen the organization around Labonte.

“Ben’s experience with Ford Racing is really an asset to our organization,” said Yates Racing co-owner Max Jones. “The No. 96 team is fortunate enough to have a champion driver and a group of experts in the sport.

“I believe Ben will bring the right changes to this team to help it accomplish some solid finishes this season and climb a few positions in the points.”

Labonte, the 2000 Cup Series champion, came to the team in mid-January when Yates aligned with Hall of Fame Racing. The team had to move quickly to prepare for the start of the season, and Labonte didn’t even get a chance to drive a team car until the first Daytona 500 practice.

Still, the team was as high as 10th in the points following Labonte’s fifth-place finish at Las Vegas, the third race of the season. But Labonte has not finished higher than 22nd since and he’s currently 28th in the standings. He was hampered by an engine failure at Atlanta and an accident at Texas.

Leslie has been a liaison between Ford and its race teams in all three of NASCAR’s national divisions. He had previously been a crew chief for Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Ricky Rudd, and he led Martin to a second-place finish in the 2001 final standings.

Parrott will remain with the team in a role that will allow him to assist both Labonte and Paul Menard, the other Yates entry.

Labonte and Parrott had worked together at Petty Enterprises in early 2006, but Parrott left to return to what was then called Robert Yates Racing, where he won the 1999 Cup championship with Dale Jarrett.

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