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After season, Irwin, Yates to part ways

Robert Yates said Wednesday that Kenny Irwin, driver of the No. 28 Ford Taurus since 1998, will not return to his racing team next year.

"Kenny Irwin and I have mutually agreed that it is in the best interests of both Kenny and the team to not continue our relationship together into the year 2000," said Yates, whose team also fields the No. 88 Ford of Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett.

Irwin, the top 1997 rookie in the Craftsman Truck Series and a surprise pick to replace Ernie Irvan last year, won Winston Cup Rookie of the Year honors for 1998 after winning a pole, turning in one top five and three top 10s and finishing 28th in the points.

But Yates was openly critical of Irwin during that first season, complaining that Irwin was not focusing enough on racing.

The problems were seemingly put to rest last season when Irwin said he had rededicated himself to racing. But Irwin has been a forgotten man this season.

In the first 20 races of 1999, he has added a second career pole, one top five and two top 10s and is 20th in the standings.

"I want to emphasize that this change is being made in the interest of all concerned," Yates said. "Kenny is a talented driver and all of us at Robert Yates Racing wish him the best in his future endeavors."

Yates said that no decision has been made regarding a new driver for next year.

"We are exploring our options and will interview drivers before making a decision," Yates said.

FITTIPALDI PLANS RETURN: Christian Fittipaldi hopes to return to the cockpit next month after he recovers from a head injury sustained in a wreck.

The 28-year-old Brazilian was on the way to his best season in CART when he crashed last week while testing in Madison, Ill.

Fittipaldi is resting and making plans to get back on the track. His target date is Sept. 12, at the Texaco Grand Prix in Houston.

"I am doing a lot better," Fittipaldi said from his home in Miami, where he is recovering from a subdural hematoma _ a collection of blood just below the skin on the left side of his head.

"Emotionally, I am feeling both sad and happy," he said. "I am sad because everything was going well this season. But, on the other hand, I am happy because the injury could have been even worse."

He has been through this kind of frustration before.

In 1997, he broke his leg in a crash in Australia and missed six races. Last year, he crashed during practice at the Milwaukee Mile, sustaining a concussion.