Friday, January 02, 2009

COMMENTARY: It's Big Business, My Friends

The beat goes on in the saga of Gillett Evernham Motorsports, Elliott Sadler and AJ Allmendinger.

Allmendinger’s business manager, Tara Ragan, let the cat out of the bag last week, revealing that her client is in the final stages of negotiations to replace Sadler in the GEM #19 Dodge next season. The move came as a bit of a surprise, since the team extended Sadler’s contract early last season, re-upping him through the 2010 campaign. But Allmendinger was sufficiently impressive in his five-race, late season stint with GEM that the team decided to make a change.

Today,’s David Poole reports that an attorney representing Elliott Sadler has filed notice in Iredell County (N.C.) Court claiming breach of contract on the part of Gillett Evernham Motorsports. His lawyer, John Buric, filed papers Wednesday giving his client until January 20 to file an actual complaint, if he is unable to reach a satisfactory settlement with the team.

The document names George Gillett, Gillett Evernham Motorsports, Ray Evernham Enterprises and Allmendinger as defendants, and confirms what Sirius Speedway first told you last week; that Sadler did not learn until Christmas Eve that GEM had been negotiating with Allmendinger to replace him in 2009. Buric said there had been earlier communication with Sadler about a possible driver change.

After mulling this situation over for the better part of a week, there are three things of which I am certain:

First: George Gillett has the right to put any driver he wants behind the wheel of his racecars.

Second: AJ Allmendinger has the right to accept the offer of a ride in one of George Gillett’s racecars.

Third: Elliott Sadler has the right to be fairly compensated for the two years remaining on his contract.

There is a way for all three parties to emerge from this process (relatively) satisfied, and I’m confident that the scenario will ultimately come to pass. GEM and Sadler will negotiate a buyout of Sadler’s driving contract. GEM will spend more money than they want to, and Sadler will receive less money than he wants to. That’s called compromise, and it will ultimately clear the way for Allmendinger to fill the seat of the #19 Dodge, beginning at Daytona next month.

There are a few other things I’m certain about, too.

I know I feel happy for Dinger, who deserves (and has earned) a top-notch ride. He found himself the odd-man-out at Red Bull Racing, which ended up with three outstanding drivers and only two cars. The 2009 season will allow him to prove to Red Bull that they made the wrong choice.

I know I feel crappy for Sadler. Ole Ricky Bobby didn’t have the greatest season in 2008, and if the team feels its time for a change, so be it. But canning a man on Christmas Eve? That’s low. I also wonder how a driver worthy of a contract extension in May ended up being road kill in December. Fickle bunch, those Gilletts.

I feel bad for Ray Evernham, who brought George and Alex Gillett into the fold for all the right reasons, and with the absolute best intentions. The fact that his team now seems to have veered off in a direction he never could have predicted is sad in the extreme.

And finally, I know that situations like this happen frequently in big time, professional motorsports. It’s a harsh world out there, based almost exclusively on “what have you done for me lately?” With millions of dollars on the line, patience sometimes wears thin.

It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. And it’s the way it is.

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