Team Preview: Earnhardt-Ganassi (+Video)

УвеличитьThe combined forces of what is now known as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing should be better than what each team produced last year as a separate entity.

But that’s not saying a whole lot.

Both Chip Ganassi Racing and DEI suffered through a series of on-track and financial problems in 2008 that eventually led to the two entities merging.

After the much-celebrated move of Dale Earnhardt Jr. from the DEI stable, the team started off last season on what looked like a positive note and solid foundation for the future. DEI boasted a four-car stable of fully sponsored drivers including Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard, Mark Martin and Aric Almirola, splitting time in one ride, and rookie Regan Smith.

But when sponsorship problems surfaced and the team was forced to scale back its operation, DEI had no other choice than to look for a life line in its merger with Ganassi.

УвеличитьTruex wasn’t able to find victory lane as he did in 2007 and missed the Chase, finishing 15th in the standings. The former Nationwide Series champion did score three top fives and 11 top-10 finishes.

Martin, who announced mid-season he would bolt the team to run a full-time slate with Hendrick Motorsports in 2009, was again impressive in his limited schedule. In only 24 starts, the veteran posted four top-five finishes and wound up 28th in the standings.

His protégé, Almirola, made 12 starts in the No. 8 entry and did show some promise on the short tracks topped by an eighth-place finish at Bristol.

Menard finished 26th in the final standings and did win a pole at Daytona in July. But he announced his move to Yates Racing, taking his family’s lucrative home improvement store sponsorship dollars with him, for 2009.

Smith won the Rookie of the Year award in a limited schedule of starts and came close to winning his first career Sprint Cup race in a controversial finish at Talladega when he was ruled to have passed winner Tony Stewart under the yellow out-of-bounds line on the final lap.

УвеличитьOver on the Ganassi side, 2007 ROY Juan Pablo Montoya couldn’t duplicate his freshman year effort and missed both victory vane and the Chase in his sophomore season. Montoya notched a pair of top fives on his way to a 25th-place finish in the standings.

Teammate Reed Sorenson stumbled home to a 32nd-place points finish with two top fives and three top 10s. The former Legends Car standout announced his move to Gillett Evernham Motorsports for 2009 at mid-season.

But maybe the most painful part of Ganassi’s disappointing season came with the decision to shut down its No. 40 entry due to lack of sponsorship and ultimately ending the stock-car career of Dario Franchitti. The former IRL champion and Indy 500 winner, who broke his foot in a severe Nationwide Series crash at Talladega in April, was left without a ride when Ganassi was forced to park his ride in late summer.

So after both sides finally were able to put together the long-anticipated merger, the end result is a leaner — and hopefully meaner — effort.

Truex Jr. in the Bass Pro Shops-sponsored No. 1 Chevrolet and Montoya in the now Target-backed No. 41 Chevy lead the team with Almriola in the No. 8 at least for Daytona.

The operation may not be as big as the parts of both former teams were individually, but team owners Ganassi and Teresa Earnhardt are optimistic about the future.

«In this ultra-competitive era of NASCAR, it is necessary to build and sustain the strongest team possible, and our combining with the people and equipment at Dale Earnhardt Inc., will help create a strong four-car program for years to come,» Ganassi said. «This is a win-win for both organization, as well as all of our partners.»

Увеличить«Having a partner like Chip, who is heavily involved on the competition side of the business, is an ideal situation for DEI,» added Earnhardt. «He has a long history of managing championship teams in the IndyCar and Rolex Grand-Am Series, and I share his passion and goals of winning races, and ultimately championships in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. I think this is a case where we are stronger together than we are apart.»

The team got off to a strong start at Daytona with Truex Jr. taking the 500 pole and Montoya turning in the fourth-fastest time in Sunday’s qualifying session.

That effort was the exact shot-in-the-arm EGR needed to start the new season.

«This has been a painful thing for a lot of people on all sides of it,» Ganassi said on Sunday. «But this shows there has been a lot of hard work put in by a lot of people. …There was a core group of people that never wavered and never lost focus on what they wanted to do.»

«I think a lot of people put too much emphasis on the stuff that goes on during the winter,» Truex said. «We felt like we did what was good for our company and what was the right thing for all of us to do. So far it feels like a step in the right direction.»

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