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Back home again: Bobby Labonte to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in Xfinity opener


during qualifying for the 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 15, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Jared C. Tilton

Joe Gibbs Racing is kind of putting the old band back together, at least for the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona.

Former JGR driver and 2000 Sprint Cup champ Bobby Labonte will return to the Gibbs’ fold for that kickoff race, the team announced Wednesday.

Labonte will replace Kyle Busch in the No. 18 NOS Energy Drink Camry in the season opener. In the same race a year ago, Busch was involved in a wreck that left him with a broken right leg and fractured left foot, causing him to miss the next three months of competition.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to drive for JGR again,” Labonte said in a JGR media release. “I didn’t think this would ever happen and when Joe called me about the program, it was a ‘no-brainer.’

“Great race team, great cars, the opportunity is a good one. There would be nothing better than to hang a flag in this building too.”

While Labonte, who won the 1991 Xfinity championship as well, will replace Busch in the Xfinity opener, Busch will be back in the No. 18 JGR Xfinity car at Atlanta Motor Speedway the following week.

Busch, who won last season’s Sprint Cup championship, is the all-time winningest driver in the Xfinity Series with 76 wins. He’s slated to compete in 16 Xfinity races this season, according to a JGR media release.

Matt Tifft will also drive an unspecified number of races in the No. 18 later in the season, as well.

NOS Energy Drink will be featured on the No. 18 in 18 Xfinity races this season.

Follow @JerryBonkowski