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NASCAR Notebook

Associated Press
The NASCAR notebook …
Regan Smith still believes he won the last NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Smith, who drove last year for Dale Earnhardt Inc., will return to the Alabama track for this weekend’s Cup race, driving the No. 78 Chevrolet for Furniture Row Racing.
“It’s hard not to think about that last lap,” said Smith, who led the field to the checkered flag in last October’s Talladega race only to see the victory taken away when NASCAR ruled that he illegally passed Tony Stewart on the final lap. The penalty relegated last year’s top Cup rookie to an 18th-place finish.
“I was being blocked and it was either passing Stewart or crashing the field,” explained Smith. “I felt I made the proper move and won the race.”
Though it would have been his first career Cup win, Smith harbors no ill feelings toward Talladega. In fact, the 25-year-old driver said he enjoys Talladega’s 2.66-mile oval and looks forward to the three- and four-wide racing.
“Talladega brings out all of the emotions,” Smith said. “I’ve always liked racing there. It’s 500 miles of excitement and mind games, an incredible rush.”

LABONTE: 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.
– GOING LONG: NASCAR star Carl Edwards will be part of a team of drivers that will put a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid to the ultimate fuel-efficiency test this weekend, trying to drive more than 1,000 miles on a single tank of gas.
The drive, which will also raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, will start Saturday in Mount Vernon, Va., and, hopefully, finish Monday in Washington, D.C.
The team will drive for more than 43 hours continuously to reach the 1,000-mile goal with drivers taking shifts of between two and three hours. The Fusion Hybrid will need to average at least 57 miles per gallon to achieve its goal.

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