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NASCAR Notebook for December 5, 2008

by Dave Grayson
Friday, December 05, 2008

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NASCAR's Champions Week reaches its grand conclusion Friday evening at the Waldorf Astoria in New York where Jimmie Johnson will be officially feted for winning his third consecutive Sprint Cup championship. He will be joined on the stage by the top ten drivers in the final points standings. Dr. Jerry Punch, an ESPN NASCAR broadcaster, will emcee the banquet. The rock band Matchbox 20 will perform as will comedian John Pinette. Actor Kevin Costner will present a special NASCAR historical segment. The gala awards evening can be seen live on ESPN Classic beginning at 9:00 pm Eastern Time.

Once the awards and the giant checks have been passed out Jimmie Johnson will have to focus on realigning his plans for a well deserved vacation. Johnson, earlier this week, had to cancel plans to vacation in Thailand after protesters shut down the airport in Bangkok for a week amidst political turmoil. The champ said, "I wanted to travel to somewhere off the wall and far away." I'd like to suggest Los Angeles. It's definitely off the wall and with the traffic on its freeway system it feels like you've gone far away. 

Also of special interest for racing fans will be the Speed Channel's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Banquet Special which can be seen December 8 at 8:00 pm Eastern Time. The truck series had a banner year and that has been reflected in the astounding increase of the Nielsen Television Ratings for the 2008 season.

While Champion's Week will absolutely be the focal point of the NASCAR News this week, there are other issues that require monitoring including the increasingly bleak future of one of NASCAR's most prolific teams. Let's move on to:

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

It's no secret that the future of Petty Enterprises gets a little darker each week. As it stands now driver Bobby Labonte's famed #43 Dodge doesn't have enough sponsorship to cover all of the races in 2009. Development driver Chad McCumbee's sponsorship program, for the Petty's #44 Dodge, completely fell apart and now his official NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie season is now highly questionable. No one's sure if Kyle Petty will be back in the #45 Dodge including the driver himself.

Last June the Pettys stunned everyone with an announcement that said they had sold majority ownership of their operation to Boston Ventures who was suppose to supply the working capital to create massive technological improvements that would restore the team to once again being a winning contender. Die-hard Petty fans, including yours truly, were overjoyed at the prospect even though we understood that the process would require some development time. But we all expected to see the signs of improvement by now. So did Kyle Petty who recently, on Speed television, said, "I can't honestly name one thing that Boston Ventures has done for Petty Enterprises since they took over."

Meanwhile the rumor mill, relocated to New York this week, has been working overtime spreading a report that says the Pettys are going to merge with GEM-Gillett Evernham Motorsports, and the official announcement is expected literally any day now. Interestingly enough the major spokespersons from both organizations are denying these reports. Drew Brown, GEM Director of Communications, said the state of his company, "has not changed and there are no impending announcements." GEM majority owner George Gillett was reported to be very surprised by this story. David Zucker, Petty Enterprises CEO, said "the report in not accurate and I won't comment on rumor and speculation."

There is, of course, the possibility that these corporate executives are keeping things on the down low until their respective legal teams can complete a merger agreement for their signatures. If that's true then here's how the merger of GEM and Petty Enterprises will look:

It will be a four car team that includes GEM's #9 with Kasey Kahne, #19 with Elliot Sadler and #10 with Reed Sorenson. The only contribution from the Pettys in the new lineup will be Bobby Labonte's #43.

That will mean that the Petty's other two drivers, Chad McCumbee and Kyle Petty, will be out of a ride unless they can sign on with another team at the last minute.  The Richard Petty Driving Experience, the famed race driving school, created by Richard Petty may also be a part of this merger.

Petty Enterprises as we've known it for all of these years will virtually cease to exist.

Ironically enough, GEM has already reaped a huge dividend from another merger that recently occurred. The coupling of Dale Earnhardt Inc-DEI and Ganassi Racing has guaranteed that all of the GEM Dodges will be in NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. The causality of this merger was two of DEI's teams, the numbers 15 and 01, both of which were in the top 35. That meant two teams on the outside looking in moved into the top 35 with one of them being GEM's #10 Dodge.

In other NASCAR business items Goodyear announced that it will be hosting an official tire test, December 10th and 11th, at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Drivers and teams involved include Carl Edwards in the #99 Roush Fenway Ford, Mark Martin in the #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Brian Vickers in the #83 Red Bull Racing Toyota and David Stremme in the #12 Penske Racing Dodge.

In a final effort to get some individual team testing in before the NASCAR ban begins in 2009, Gillett Evernham Motorsports sent drivers Reed Sorenson and Dennis Setzer to test their Dodge Sprint Cup teams at the Nashville Super Speedway back on December 3d.

It's sad to note that Wyler Racing, who fielded a team for driver Jack Sprague in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this year, has laid off approximately ten employees and issued a statement that said if they can't find a sponsor for 2009 by February 1st then they will have no choice but to close their race shop for good.

From the opposite extreme comes a story from Thorsport Racing who announced expansion plans. They are planning to field two teams in the 2009 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and are looking at launching a Nationwide Series team they will operate on a part time schedule. They are also in the process of hiring experienced personnel to cover the needs of this expansion. They are also reported to be talking to driver Johnny Sauter.

THE PERSONNEL FILES.

There was a flurry of crew chief changes this week. The anticipated announcement that said veteran chief Donnie Wingo will be manning the pit box for driver Jamie McMurray next year was made official this past Tuesday by Roush Fenway Racing. This is a reunion move. Wingo was McMurray's chief when they were together at Ganassi Racing.

Todd Parrott, who recently announced his departure from Yates Racing and Travis Kvapil's #28 Ford, will be moving to Gillett Evernham Motorsports to become the new chief for Elliot Sadler's #19 Dodge. This is also a reunion. Parrott and Sadler were teamed a number of years ago at Yates Racing with the #38 M&M's car. Parrott replaces Rodney Childers who is moving over to Michael Waltrip Racing to call the shots for driver David Reutimann and the #00 Toyota. Childers new assignment is a replacement for Ryan Pemberton who recently left Waltrip to become the new crew chief at Red Bull Racing and the #83 Toyota driven by Brian Vickers.

Driver Scott Speed, who is set to make his full time NASCAR Sprint Cup debut next year for Red Bull Racing, will also drive some selected races in the Nationwide Series for Michael Waltrip Racing and their #99 Toyota.

Joe Gibbs Racing developer driver Marc Davis will participate in an ARCA ReMax Series test session at Daytona with Venturini Motorsports. Negotiations are also underway for him to drive the car in the ARCA race during Speed Weeks. The young driver is also seeking permission from NASCAR to race in the Daytona Nationwide Series event.

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