Offseason moving and shaking continues

Published 3:19 pm Friday, January 9, 2009

It has been about two months since the last NASCAR race, but the action taking place this off-season has been as fast-paced and bizarre as any in recent memory. There will be many changes leading up to the 2009 season, and many questions remain unanswered.

Just this week, another merger was announced as Petty Enterprises merged with Gillette Evernham Racing. Or we can call it what it really is: George Gillett bought the 43 car’s points from Boston Ventures. Luckily for all race fans, Richard Petty will still be somewhat involved in the new, yet-to-be-named company.

Ray Evernham is nowhere to be found in this deal and probably will be scarce at the track this year. He has bought a dirt short-track in Lincolnton, N.C., and will play the part of promoter after a great career as a crew chief and owner in Sprint Cup.

After the dust settles, it appears that Gillett and Petty will field three cars full time and another on a limited basis. Kasey Kahne, the only constant during this whole deal, will drive the No. 9 Dodge, and Reed Sorenson will drive the newly acquired No. 43 car.

Last week, it appeared that AJ Allmendinger would replace Elliott Sadler in the No. 19. All that changed when Sadler called the team’s bluff and pretty much said, “Let me drive or pay off my contract.” The team reversed course, and Sadler is back in the No. 19 car while negotiating with Allmendinger on a partial schedule in No. 10.

Hey, where is Bobby Labonte in this whole scenario? He drove the 43 last season but saw the writing on the wall with Gillette, Petty and Dodge and asked out of this contract a few weeks ago. It is not known where Labonte will land in 2009, but rest assured he will be in a full-time ride next season.

But, his options seem limited at this time, and the No. 41 Target Chevy with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (boy, it seems weird to say that) seems the most likely destination. Though Labonte is entering the twilight of his career, the past champion’s provisional he carries is very valuable to team owners.

Speaking of EGR, the muddy sponsorship picture for that company is still pretty muddy. They have two and a half sponsors for four teams, and considering the first race at Daytona is a month away and the soft state of the economy, their prospects do not look good.

Nor do the prospects look good for many other un-sponsored or partially sponsored teams. I believe we will face the real possibility of some races next season not starting with a full 43-car field. Only 29 teams are fully funded next season, and there aren’t many car owners that can take supporting a NASCAR team from their pocket.

2009 could very well be a patchwork season for lots of teams and drivers. But, the fact remains that the Daytona 500 is Feb. 15, and I can’t wait.