There has been a wholesale changing of the guard at Gillett-Evernham Motorsports, with team officials electing to replace Elliott Sadler with AJ Allmendinger at the wheel of their No. 19 Dodge.
Allmendinger's business manager, Tara Ragan, told NASCAR.com Saturday night that her client is “in the final stages of negotiations with Gillett Evernham," and that the deal should be finalized within the next week. "I don't foresee any problems coming up,” said Ragan, “and I don't think they do, either.”
Allmendinger drove GEM’s #10 Dodge in the final five races of last season, recording an average finish of 16.4. He also endeared himself to team personnel with his off-track attitude, and reportedly forged a solid relationship with teammate Kasey Kahne. Gillett-Evernham CEO Tom Reddin announced the impending driver change to team employees just before the holidays, and sources within the team say the reaction was mixed.
“AJ did a great job for us last season, and we’re excited to have him drive for us,” said one GEM crewman, on the condition of anonymity. “But what they did to Elliott was just plain wrong.”
Sadler’s ouster also appears to have angered GEM founder Ray Evernham, who removed all his personal property and mementos from the team’s shop late last week. Since selling a majority share of the team to Gillett, Evernham has had little hands-on involvement with the team, and has reportedly been working to divest his remaining ownership stake. He declined to comment on the move yesterday, saying, “I got a call from a friend last night asking what I knew about it, but I really don’t know anything. I haven’t even read about it on the internet, so there’s really no way for me to comment until I know what I’m talking about.”
Sadler signed a two-year contract extension with GEM in May, and sources say team owner George Gillett will now be forced to buy out those additional two years. Sadler has already begun making calls to try and find a ride for next season.
Sources tell Sirius Speedway that Gillett is heavily leveraged from the original Evernham buyout, as well as from a number of automobile dealerships he purchased earlier this year. He reportedly faces a major payment on his Liverpool Football Club, which plays in the English Premier League, as well. A deal that would have merged GEM with Bill Davis Racing fell by the wayside a few weeks ago, reportedly after Gillett was unable to obtain financing to complete the transaction.
Gillett has recently been involved in negotiations to merge GEM with Petty Enterprises. Sirius Speedway reported two weeks ago that the merger had stalled, and while that report was immediately denied by a GEM spokesman, Sadler’s release appears to indicate that the deal is indeed in jeopardy.
A combined GEM/Petty operation was expected to field four cars in 2009; enough to retain Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson, Sadler and Allmendinger.
GEM announced earlier this month that it will scale back its 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series operation, after losing sponsor Unilever to JR Motorsports. The team recently laid off approximately 65 employees.