I realize I'm well behind on following the Chase for the Sprint Cup on this page -- I'll get to that in a bit -- but the big news of the day coming into the NASCAR season's final weekend takes precedence. There have been talks in recent weeks of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. merging with another existing Sprint Cup operation -- Petty Enterprises and Chip Ganassi Racing being the two likeliest candidates -- and as of Wednesday, the talks became reality.
ESPN.com's David Newton reports that DEI will merge with Ganassi for the 2009 season to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. As it currently stands, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Juan Pablo Montoya will be three of the team's four drivers, while the driver of what is now the No. 41 Dodge has yet to be decided.
A.J. Allmendinger and Scott Riggs are among the drivers slated for that ride. Reed Sorenson, the current driver of the No. 41, will move over to Gillett Evernham Motorsports' No. 10 at the end of this season.
Given both organizations' recent struggles, both on the track and in the bottom line, this move makes sense. NASCAR was already moving toward a competitive climate that would only allow the super teams to flourish, and the economic struggles facing NASCAR and the nation as a whole made such a move even more necessary.
Ganassi and DEI have both struggled for sponsorship dollars of late -- Ganassi had to shut down the No. 40 team in July and lay off 70 employees because of a lack of sponsorship, and of DEI's four cars, only Truex's No. 1 has full funding for 2009. So from an economic standpoint, the merger benefits both teams, even if funding is still needed for Montoya and Almirola. Montoya's car, the No. 42, only has partial sponsorship, while Almirola's No. 8 will lose the U.S. Army as a sponsor after this weekend'd finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Manufacturer details remain to be seen, given Ganassi's contractual obligations to Dodge, but reports have EGR running under the Chevrolet/General Motors brand. There is also the matter of DEI's engine alliance with Richards Childress Racing, though a source told Newton RCR wanted to keep that relationship, even after the merger.
DEI's season has been well-documented, and many attribute much of the team's problems to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s departure after last season. But DEI's problems started long before NASCAR's most popular driver left for Hendrick Motorsportsl, as evidenced by the team's results each of the last three seasons. While the merger probably won't yield short-term results, if the newly-formed EGR can survive the economic crunch and not give way to the Hendricks, Gibbs and Roushes for the world, this team could be successful in the long run.
I'm just not sure the late Dale Earnhardt ever had anything like this in mind when he founded this company.