Monday, September 10, 2007

Notes From Richmond

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is out of the 2007 Chase For The Nextel Cup, after another in a series of ill-timed engine failures Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.

Earnhardt was running solidly in the top five with less than 10 laps to go when smoke erupted from beneath his Budweiser Chevrolet, sending him to the garage and out of contention. To be fair, Earnhardt's chances of making the Chase were already razor-thin, since both Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick were running well inside the Top-20 when Earnhardt went up in smoke.

Saturday night's explosion marked Junior's fifth blown engine of the season, and a 19% failure rate (five engines in 26 races) won't get you very far in NASCAR Nextel Cup racing. After the race, Earnhardt commented on the fact that DEI can't seem to keep engines together "when they drop them in my car." His remarks gave a fleeting glimpse into the frustation NASCAR's most popular driver is undoubtably feeling over his team's late season nosedive.

Yates To Retire: Robert Yates announced this weekend that he will retire at the end of the season, handing the reins of over to his son, Doug. Yates Racing will field NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Fords for drivers David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil in 2008, with Kvapil replacing the retiring Ricky Rudd. Doug Yates said the recently announced merger with Champ Car’s Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing will not take place, after all, with Yates relying instead on a strengthened alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, which will provide hardware, engineering, marketing and operational assistance.

Petty-Evernham Merger: Kyle Petty said Friday that talks are underway to negotiate a possible merger of Petty Enterprises with Gillett-Evernham Motorsports.

The move would create a new, four-car team under the Dodge banner, and Petty said new Gillett-Evernham majority owner George Gillett has proposed a merger that would allow the Petty’s to continue racing under their name. Combining the teams would force Gillett-Evernham to liquidate one of its three cars, in order to comply with NASCAR's new, four-team cap.

Ray Evernham said that he is in favor of the move, and that four-car teams are the wave of the future in NASCAR. All parties stress that they are very early in the negotiating process.

In other Gillett-Evernham news, Canadian driver Patrick Carpentier will drive a Nextel Cup car for the team before this season is over, as a prelude to a possible, full-time Cup schedule next season. Gillett told Montreal’s CKAC radio that there is "a very good chance” that Carpentier will race this season, and that if an upcoming test at Kentucky Speedway goes well, there should be a place for him on the team’s 2008 Nextel Cup roster.

Stremme Out At CGR: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has declined to exercise its option on David Stremme's contract for 2008, leaving Stremme without a ride for next season. Team owner Chip Ganassi said Stremme is free to explore other options, but that he could still return to the team if sponsorship can be found. Current sponsor Coors Light announced last week that it will not return in 2008.

Ganassi declined to comment on widespread reports that recently crowned IRL champion Dario Franchitti is set to replace Stremme in the #40 Dodge next season, but sources in the IRL paddock at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend said the move is virtually a done deal. Franchitti has reportedly been offered a five-year deal to drive Ganassi's #40 Dodge next season, with sponsorship from Canadian Club (his current IRL backer) and Energizer.

Franchitti clinched the IRL title Sunday with a stunning, last-lap pass of Scott Dixon, after Dixon ran out of fuel within sight of a potential championship-clinching victory. He declined to comment on his future following the race, saying, "I just want to celebrate this championship, and not worry about next year."

GM Still Chasing Stewart: A top executive at General Motors says they will not let Tony Stewart get away without a fight.

Joe Gibbs Racing confirmed this week that they will jump to the Toyota camp next season, taking Stewart and teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch with them. But GM’s Vice President of North American Sales, Service and Parts, Brent Dewar, said Friday that GM will attempt to re-sign Stewart with another Chevrolet team when his current deal with Gibbs expires. Dewar said Chevrolet will continue to support Stewart’s USAC and World of Outlaws teams until then, despite Tony’s recent statement that he hopes to sign a contract extension to finish his career with Gibbs.

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