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NASCAR rumor mill in full force As the shock of owner Chip Ganassi's bailout rumbles through the NASCAR garage, the sense is that stock-car men are now waiting for another shoe to drop. If a man as business-savvy as Ganassi has to close up a shop and put 70 crewmen out of work, what else lies in store for the Sprint Cup tour this summer?
John Fernandez, one of the laid-off Ganassi men, was a team manager after years running Dodge's racing operations. He said that the basic problem that NASCAR faces is pretty simple: Three owners -- Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, and Joe Gibbs -- are winning the majority of the races. Those three have won 11 of the season's 17 races, and they should have won more.
Roger Penske's two wins -- Ryan Newman at Daytona and Kurt Busch at Loudon -- were upsets, wins snatched away from Gibbs' drivers.
Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer each has a win for Richard Childress, and Kasey Kahne has two wins for Ray Evernham and George Gillett. But those wins haven't been followed by very competitive runs. And what to make of Hendrick's dumping of Casey Mears? Who will take that ride, and why is Hendrick shaking things up? Does Mark Martin, soon-to-be-50, really want to run a full season of races again, this time for Hendrick?
And what about Dale Earnhardt Inc.?
Less than a year ago, DEI executives were talking boldly of expanding to a four-car operation. That isn't being talked about very much any more. Can DEI regain momentum, or will it continue its downhill slide?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. bailed out last year. Martin Truex Jr. has been trying to wrestle his way free at the end of the season. And Martin's part-time gig there appears to be over -- he could well be announced Friday as Hendrick's new driver. Aric Almirola is to take over Martin's ride at DEI full-time, but it's unclear if the U.S. Army will continue its sponsorship at DEI. Paul Menard is to continue at DEI, though he's not shown much during his years there. Kerry Earnhardt, the 38-year-old half-brother of Dale Jr., is set to get back in a NASCAR machine for DEI, in Friday night's Nationwide race. But that's not much to startle anyone.
There could be a flurry of announcements here this week, as prelude to Saturday night's Coke Zero 400, as several team owners try to put to rest the rampant speculation about new drivers and 2009.
Joe and J. D. Gibbs are expected to have something to say about Tony Stewart's plans to leave their Toyota camp and return to Chevrolet. Maybe the Gibbses can get Juan Pablo Montoya. If not, Joey Logano is the obvious choice, although he's only 18. The Gibbses already have two championship contenders in Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, so they can well afford a fast-track Logano development program.
Stewart may be ready to make his own plans clearer, and it's looking as though he'll be taking over the Gene Haas-Joe Custer Chevy operation, possibly with Ryan Newman as teammate, possibly with UPS as a sponsor.
Mears could be lined up for Richard Childress' new fourth team.
Roger Penske, who has been less than impressive as a car owner the past two years, would be in the market to hire, if Newman does leave. Truex might be aiming at taking Newman's place.
And just how happy is Kurt Busch at Penske's? Busch was a weekly contender when driving for Roush, but since moving to Penske's, he has been more typically an also-ran. Winston Salem Journal
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