Friday, November 14, 2008

The ever-changing NASCAR: DEI/Ganassi merger, new testing policy and the end of an era for some.

As NASCAR gears up for their season finale, the NASCAR championship weekend in Homestead, FL, that includes the crowning of all three National Series Championships which for the most part are all up for grabs, there seems to be a theme growing throughout the garage area, entitled ever-changing economy and what NASCAR and teams/organizations are going to do to survive to race in 2009.

With that said, a domino fell, as on Wednesday, Dale Earnhardt Inc and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates announced in a statement:

Two of motorsports’ biggest names – Earnhardt and Ganassi – will launch a four-car team beginning in 2009 through the combination of the motorsports operations of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (DEI) and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Inc. (CGRFS). NASCAR stars Martin Truex Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya will drive the Nos. 1 and 42 respectively and future star Aric Almirola will be behind the wheel of the No. 8. The driver of the No. 41 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 thepeople and equipment at Dale Earnhardt Inc. will help create a strong four-carprogram for years to come,” said Chip Ganassi. “This is a win-win for both organizations as well as all of our partners.”

“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.” Details of the new four-car operation will be announced at a future date. – Ganassi Racing website.
This one took me by surprise and in a sense that my first thoughts were, DEI is gone, personally, since Dale Jr. left DEI, they really haven’t made an impact on me, however it still was Dale Earnhardt’s company, now with this merger, DEI is gone and it’s now Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

It seems to be a sign of the things to come in NASCAR. I remember Felix Sabates saying on NASCAR Now earlier this year that NASCAR should have a 36-car field on the Cup Series in 2010. You know, I thought the idea was over blown and not something NASCAR should consider in the first place, why make it harder for already struggling teams to make the race and besides, it’s not NASCAR’s job to do that, it will be the teams who creates that number (up to 43) and this merger removes three-cars in sense.

Word is, they will be running a four-car Chevrolet team. This is where I began thinking as well, in a shaky economy, why wouldn’t Chevrolet just release DEI from their contract and let this new 4-car race team run Dodge’s instead.

Chevrolet already has a 4-car Hendrick Motorsports, 2-car Stewart-Haas Racing and 4-car Richard-Childress Racing, so why not cut back their, besides, those are your best teams anyway. Now the only problem besides the 5-year Chevrolet contract for DEI is that RCR and DEI have combined their engine program into one, however Ganassi Racing has a Dodge engine department and using that might be better..

However as an even more changing economy, NASCAR has done a complete 180 in there testing policy, it was originally discussed that NASCAR would give every organization 24 days of testing, but earlier today, NASCAR made this statement:

In an effort to help teams manage costs, NASCAR is suspending testing for its three national and two regional racing series for the 2009 season.

Testing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the NASCAR Nationwide Series,the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, as well as the NASCAR Camping World East and West Regional Touring Series at tracks hosting any of those events are included in the 2009 policy.

NASCAR reached this decision followingseveral months of discussion with the teams regarding testing, coupled with the current economic conditions. The suspension of testing should save the industry millions of dollars.

"This is a significant move during an unusual time for all of us," said NASCAR President Mike Helton in making the announcement.“NASCAR has routinely adjusted its test policy over the years to reflect current conditions. This is another example of that.” – NASCAR PR
Surprised, but not, this really changes what NASCAR teams can do, there is no testing allowed at most racetracks in the United States, as a result, I would imagine that this would say a few million dollars, but mark this, teams will find a way to test. Rockingham Speedway and the half-mile test track that looks like Martinsville comes to mind, VIR road course and some test tracks including Chevrolet’s, Ford’s, Dodge’s and Toyota’s test tracks will be used , plus don’t be surprised to see maybe Roush or Hendrick build a new track just to test. Look at the track list for all 5 racing series, Hickory, Greenville-Pickens Speedway, Kentucky, Nashville are all on the list of not allowed to test at.

And as the NASCAR Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway begins to plays out, take some time and first check out what will bring the field in the Ford 400 to the green flag, a 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid and remember that for some, it is truly the end of an era.

Last season at this time, the drivers, teams, owners, media and the fans were all talking about Dale Earnhardt Jr’s final race in the #8 Budweiser DEI Chevrolet, for this season it’s Tony Stewart as Stewart will leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to join the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing which will field Chevrolets. With this move, Ryan Newman will leave Penske Racing to join him in the second car.

Like I said earlier this year, this a good move, not only for Chevrolet because they get there star back, but because Stewart wants to be an owner. I believe he will not only be a winning car owner, but winning driver and 3-time champion. What’s Next…