This has not been a good month for Dale Earnhardt Inc., and it appears to be getting worse by the minute.
Sirius NASCAR Radio's Sirius Speedway first reported last week that the U.S. Army is examining it options for 2009 and beyond, and could leave DEI for another team. Lead driver Martin Truex, Jr., still has not agreed to the provisions of a 2009 contract extension, and now, published reports have Mark Martin leaving DEI to drive for Hendrick Motorsports next season.
Martin has split time with Aric Almirola in each of the last two seasons at DEI, but has reportedly been enticed to return to full-time competition in 2009, replacing Casey Mears in the #5 Chevrolet. DEI Vice President of Motorsports Operations John Story declined to comment on the reports yesterday, but did confirm that Almirola will run a full, 36-race championship schedule next season.
"Aric is ready for a full-time ride," he said. “We're talking to Mark about what his objectives for the future are, and trying to marry that with our own, to make sure Aric has an opportunity to run full time next year… and that Mark is in a good situation."
Mears has one year left on his contract with Hendrick Motorsports, but has only one Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes in 16 starts, en route to 24th place in points. Rick Hendrick said of Mears yesterday, "I'm committed to him right now. I'm committed to him making that car run better right now."
DEI’s Story also confirmed yesterday that the team is still looking for a sponsor for the #01 Chevrolet driven by Regan Smith, and that if no financial backing is found, plans are in place to cut back to three cars. Story did not specify whether the move would come before the end of this season.
In a related story, ESPN’s Angelique Chengelis reported yesterday that the Army sponsorship is likely to move from DEI to Bill Davis Racing's #23 Toyota next season. That report has been denied by several sources, however, and Sirius Speedway has learned that Red Bull Racing is actually a leading candidate for the Army deal.
Red Bull General Manager Jay Frye first brought the Army sponsorship to NASCAR during his tenure at MB2 Motorsports, and is said to be in serious discussions to secure that sponsorship once again in 2009. There is no word on whether the Army would replace Red Bull as sponsor of either Brian Vickers or AJ Allmendinger next season, or if a third car will be added to the team for former Formula One and current NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series star Scott Speed.
No Drags At NHMS: Published reports late last week that Bruton Smith is considering building an NHRA-sanctioned dragstrip at New Hampshire Motor Speedway appear to be false.
The Speedway Motorsports Inc. Chairman was reported to be talking with NHRA executives about building a strip in Loudon, N.H., similar to the one currently being constructed a Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte. NHMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Gappens flatly denied that report, however, saying that there have been no discussions about a drag strip at NHMS, and that an agreement with the Town of Loudon expressly prohibits drag racing.
If past history is any guide, expect Smith to threaten to move NHMS to a neighboring county within the next few days, if the Loudon town fathers refuse to approve his dragstrip plans.
It's been done before...