The recent economic downturn has affected all facets of life, and motorsports has not been immune from it either. With high-dollar sponsors hard to come by nowadays, a number of NASCAR teams have had to look at ways of keeping its organizations afloat. Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing were two of those teams, and today, it was announced that these two top names in racing will become one in 2009.
Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will field four cars in the Sprint Cup Series for Martin Truex Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya and Aric Almirola. The team's fourth driver will be named in the near future.
"In this ultra-competitive era of NASCAR, it is necessary to build and sustain the strongest team possible and our combining with the people and equipment at Dale Earnhardt Inc. will help create a strong four-car program for years to come," said Chip Ganassi. "This is a win-win for both organizations as well as all of our partners."
The news ends speculation over the future of the organizations, which were both suffering from lack of sponsorship and drivers for next season. DEI's four-car squad this year looked to be in serious doubt as Mark Martin and Paul Menard had signed contracts to drive in 2009 for Hendrick Motorsports and Yates Racing, respectively. This left only Truex with a full-time sponsor, and Alimorla stepping up to take over the No. 8 car full-time, but without financial backing.
Ganassi had cut its third car, driven by Dario Franchitti, mid-season due to sponsorship woes, leaving Montoya and Reed Sorensen to lead the two-car Dodge effort. Then just months later, Sorensen signed with Gilett-Evernham Motorsports, leaving Gansssi with only one driver and a half-season sponsorship package for 2009.
"Having a partner like Chip who is heavily involved on the competition side of the business is an ideal situation for DEI," Teresa Earnhardt said. "He has a long history of managing championship teams in the IndyCar and Rolex Grand-Am Series and I share his passion and goals of winning races and ultimately championships in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. I think this is a case where we are stronger together than we are apart."
The two teams combined to field seven cars during the first half of this season, with the merger now decreasing the operation to four cars, NASCAR's limit for a team in Sprint Cup. It's uncertain whether Ganassi's Nationwide Series team will continue next season.
There's also no official word yet on what manufacturer Earnhardt-Ganassi will align with, although all bets are with Chevrolet, as DEI currently shares an engine development program with Richard Childress Racing.
Both teams have gone winless this season and have combined for only four wins over the past four seasons. However, all four of DEI's current entries and both of Ganassi's lie in the top-35 in owner's points.
The merger does not affect Gansssi's IndyCar and Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series teams, which are both based out of a separate facility in Indianapolis. Franchitti and defending series champion Scott Dixon have already been signed to drive Ganassi's Dallara-Hondas in 2009, and its Rolex Series squad is expected to return as well.