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NASCAR Notebook for Jan. 6th - Silly Season Madness

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, January 06, 2009

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There's no doubt about it that the 2008 NASCAR silly season has spilled into the new year and the operative word for the entire sequence is merger. Tracking these mergers over the past two months alone has been like trying to work a ten thousand piece jigsaw puzzle. Just like a merger the puzzle has many intricate components that has to be put together, it takes forever to reach completion and sometimes when you think the arduous process is nearly over you discover that one of those intricate components is missing. With that thought in mind let's take a look at:

WHAT THE H-E- DOUBLE TOOTHPICKS IS GOING ON AT GILLETT EVERNHAM MOTORSPORTS?

GEM continues to be the focal point of the giant NASCAR merger puzzle. There seems to be three major story lines developing here:

What will become of the team Richard Petty's father Lee built?
1.  The proposed merger with Petty Enterprises allegedly was signed, sealed and delivered this past Christmas Eve.
2.  The proposed merger with the Pettys is allegedly on hold due to GEM financial constraints.
3.  GEM has released driver Elliot Sadler and will put A J Allmendinger in their #19 Dodge.

If it's true that the GEM merger with Petty Enterprises/Boston Ventures is complete then the following is expected to happen:

1. The famed Petty #43 Dodge will move to the GEM shops. Reed Sorenson will be the driver with sponsorship provided by the United States Air Force.
2. The 2009 GEM lineup will be Kasey Kahne in the #9, A J Allmendinger in the #19 and Reed Sorenson in the #43. GEM's fourth car, the #10 Dodge, appears to be in a holding pattern and its future is uncertain.
3.  Richard Petty will portray a high profile public relations position with GEM.
4.  Robbie Loomis, Petty Enterprises Vice President of Operations, is expected to assume a similar management role with the new organization.
5.  David Zucker, Petty Enterprises CEO, will oversee the race school known as The Richard Petty Driving Experience.
6.  The remaining 39 Petty Enterprises employees are expected to be laid off within a matter of days.

If for some reason this merger can't be completed then the future of Petty Enterprises, who has been in NASCAR since 1949, will become a serious issue. However Zucker has recently gone on record saying they will run the #43 as a single car team with Boston Ventures covering the operational costs until a sponsor can be located.

Compounding this issue are recent rumors claiming George Gillett's financial status is over leveraged due to the following reasons:

1. He recently bought out the ownership shares from team founder Ray Evernham. It's now reported that Evernham will no longer play a role in the team's day to day operations and has removed all personal belongings from the GEM shops.
2. Last year Gillett reportedly made large investments in several auto dealerships.
3. Gillett owns a team in the English Premiere Soccer League, headquartered in Liverpool, England, and a rather large payment on the financial note for this team has now become due.
4.  The real eyebrow raiser came late last summer when Gillett attempted to purchase the assets of Bill Davis Racing only to find out that he couldn't acquire the financing.

Then last week came the stunning news that said GEM was replacing Elliot Sadler with A J Allmendinger in their #19 Dodge. This is going to be a very big story to follow in the coming weeks because:

1.  Last May Sadler signed a two contract extension with GEM and it's expected that Gillett will have to buy out the remainder of this contract.
2.  An attorney representing Sadler has allegedly sent GEM a letter of intent to file a breach of contract suit if a buyout is not arranged very soon. 
3.  Sadler's legal team has a January 20th deadline for officially filing a civil suit. If that happens then the financial aspect of this dispute could become highly inflated. If Sadler wins the civil suit, and there's a better than good chance that he will, then he will be entitled to punitive damages above and beyond the financial value of his contract.
4. It's been said that Sadler is extremely well liked by the team's sponsors and they are reportedly upset over his departure. The rumor mill alleges that some of these corporations are considering a reevaluation of their investment with GEM.

Of equal interest are the prospects regarding Sadler's future in NASCAR racing. The racing rumor mill has already presented two possible options:

1.  Sadler has now become a major person of interest for the newly formed Earnhardt Ganassi Racing-EGR- and their #41 Chevrolet that comes with full sponsorship from Target Stores. This is also the same ride that driver Bobby Labonte, who recently parted ways with Petty Enterprises, has been negotiating for. Over the past several weeks it was widely believed that Labonte was the top name on a short list to take over this highly coveted ride. The sudden availability of Sadler could have a huge impact in the EGR decision process.
2.  The wildest rumor of all has Sadler possibly replacing Sam Hornish Jr as the driver of Roger Penske's #77 Dodge under some rather bizarre circumstances. Hornish was set to return with this team for 2009. But that announcement was made before the major upheaval that developed with Penske's Indy Racing League operation due to Internal Revenue Service woes involving driver Helio Castroneves. The IRS indicted Castroneves with some serious income tax evasion charges and if convicted he could be serving time in a "Club Fed" facility. If the Brazilian driver is incarcerated, then Hornish will likely return to his former IRL roots and take over that ride. That in turn would make Penske's #77 NASCAR ride available to Sadler.

All of these unanticipated, not to mention bizarre, scenarios  are just more reasons why NASCAR's extended silly season has been both intriguing and entertaining.

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