Joe Menzer of NASCAR.com writes what I’ve been thinking, that the latest round of Merger Mania is more of a mess, than a success.
It appears that Merger Mania is almost complete, at least for the foreseeable future.
Of course, these days in NASCAR, the “foreseeable future” translates to about two weeks from now. It has been an ever-shifting landscape since about May of last year, and that likely will continue to be the case as teams scramble to find sponsorship dollars that simply don’t appear to be there in a faltering economy.
The latest so-called merger involved Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Petty Enterprises, and was more of an absorption of the No. 43 team made famous by Richard Petty than an actual merger in the true sense of the word.
Much has been written and said about the sad end of Petty Enterprises as NASCAR has known it for 60 years. Many fans wonder aloud why it wasn’t able to be saved, even if NASCAR itself would have had to prop it up somehow.
The fact is, especially in this economy, there wasn’t much NASCAR could do. So at least the famed No. 43 survived, with a promise from the King himself that he will continue to come to the track to spread racing goodwill as only he can.
Dust swirls again
As the dust began to settle from that agreement, however, more unpleasant particles were kicked into the air when officials at GEM badly handled the supposed planned departure of driver Elliott Sadler from one of their other cars — the same No. 19 that they had inexplicably awarded a contract extension for Sadler to drive through 2009 and beyond just last May.
After hearing through the grapevine that GEM planned to release him and put A.J. Allmendinger in that driver’s seat instead, Sadler threatened to sue for breach of contract. He had every right, to be honest; and that assertion was validated when GEM officials backed off in the long run and said Sadler would remain employed as driver of the No. 19 after all.
Where does this leave the affable Allmendinger? In limbo, with which he should be familiar after spending much of last season mired in the same miserable place.
He can drive the No. 10 car out of the GEM stable, but it placed 37th in owner’s points last season — meaning he might have to qualify on speed to get into the first five races in ’09. Plus he’s guaranteed only eight tries at that unless additional sponsorship can be lined up.
The organization and Sadler both released statements in the aftermath of the fiasco claiming that they remain one big, happy family that merely had a disagreement. But do you think Sadler will be happily sharing much information with Allmendinger when they’re together at the track this season? Should he, knowing Allmendinger nearly took his job and might still be in position to do so if GEM lawyers find a way to make it legally work?
And also, how about the mindset of Sadler and the No. 19 team after all this has been aired in public? Think they’ll be in the right frame of mind and truly on the same page heading into the Daytona 500 in a month?
Frankly, it’s a mess. Ray Evernham, who originally founded the organization but sold majority interest in it to George Gillett two summers ago, is a smart man to say that he more or less is walking away from the so-called new joint venture.
And while we’re at it, who thinks Reed Sorenson is a good selection to drive the No. 43 that Richard Petty made famous? The guy who once failed to show up for a primary sponsor’s big shindig, one attended by none other than his own car owner, is supposed to step into the 43 and represent all that is right and good about NASCAR?
I’m not feeling it on about 43 different levels.
And another thing …
Speaking of Sorenson’s former car owner, what the heck is going on at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing? Supposedly the former Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing operations merged to make each other stronger. Supposedly they will field four full-time Cup teams in 2009.
But now it’s ’09 on the calendar and much uncertainty swirls around the new, combined organization.
Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 1 Chevrolet is the only driver whose team has secured full sponsorship for the upcoming season. Aric Almirola is ready to roll in the No. 8 car, but has no primary sponsorship as yet. Juan Montoya is set to pilot the No. 42 car, but has only half his season covered by sponsorship green.
That leaves the No. 41 that used to be driven by Sorenson (and pretty poorly at that) lurking out there without a driver or a full-time sponsor. Although Bobby Labonte, the former driver of the No. 43 for Petty, has long been rumored as the top candidate for the 41, you have to wonder if the so-called Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will even be able to field a full-time fourth team as they previously projected.
Mergers are supposed to leave those involved stronger than they were when they stood alone. But it doesn’t appear to be unfolding that way, at least not yet, for either GEM or Earnhardt Ganassi.
As the 2009 season inches closer and more uncertainty looms ahead for everyone involved, one gets the sinking feeling that Merger Mania looks a whole lot more romantic on paper than it does in reality.