FastCar Newsdesk for Chicagoland, week of 7/11/08

This week, one of the biggest Silly Season rumors in history came to fruition, as Joe Gibbs Racing officially granted Tony Stewart his release from his contract for 2009 and Stewart then announced his new partnership and 50% ownership of Stewart Haas Racing. Still, pieces of the puzzle were missing from the big announcement.

Many wonder who the sponsors of the two teams will be and who will be the 2nd driver of the two-car operation. Ryan Newman’s name has been atop the rumor pile as the candidate to be Stewart’s driving teammate and sponsors like Office Depot, Old Spice, UPS and Jack Daniels have been rumored to be among those that Tony has talked to.

One person not traveling to Stewart Hass Racing will be Stewart’s long-time crew chief, Greg Zipadelli. Stewart and Zippy have been together since Stewart began in the Sprint Cup Series in 1999. Together on the No. 20 Home Depot team, they have scored 32 wins, 124 Top 5s, and 199 Top 10s, and two championships, in 338 starts over almost 10 years.

Though not announced, Home Depot is expected to remain with the team and Joey Logano is expected to be named the next driver. Logano has made only four Nationwide Series starts, since turning 18 in May, winning in his third race and scoring two poles. He is the leading candidate for the No. 20 car, because top-flight free agents Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle both re-signed with Roush Fenway Racing.
Turn here for latest developments in this crazy Silly Season…here are some more:
Truex and No. 1 team docked suspensions, points, and money
To the surprise of no one in the media or the NASCAR garage, NASCAR came down hard on the No. 1 DEI, Bass Pro Shops team at Daytona, for bringing a car to the track that did not fit the roof template. As a result, the sport’s sanctioning body penalized the team 150 points; penalized driver Martin Truex Jr. 150 driver points, likely knocking him too far away from the Chase to catch up; fined crew chief Kevin Manion $100,000; and suspended both Manion and car chief Gary Putnam for six weeks. This is a huge hit for a team that has struggled this year.
Truex appeared more than perturbed when NASCAR confiscated the team’s primary car at Daytona, saying that someone on the team had messed-up. He has a driver-pending option to drive for DEI next season and is heavily rumored to be considering signing somewhere else. Sponsor Bass Pro Shops is likely to either travel with Truex, or go to another team, if he leaves. The Daytona situation did not increase DEI’s chances of signing Truex. This was not the only big DEI story this week…

Teresa Earnhardt selling DEI to Max Siegel…maybe not
Reports surfaced this week that Teresa Earnhardt is looking to sell her ownership of DEI, possibly to a group of investors that includes President of Global Operations Max Siegel. When the company’s drivers learned of this, they pressed company officials to confirm or deny reports and Siegel said that there are no plans to sell the company.
If the sale did occur, it would mean that no Earnhardt would own the company with the Earnhardt namesake. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked is he would be interested in buying the team, but he denied that he was.
DEI is in financial trouble, as sponsors the U.S. Army, Menard’s, and Bass Pro Shops are all rumored to be considering leaving the four-car operation. The team’s fourth car, driven by rookie Regan Smith, is without a sponsor and will shut down next year or sooner, if one cannot be found.

UPS to RCR with Bowyer? RCR says no
Is UPS traveling to Clint Bowyer’s team at RCR? The company is rumored to be after the driver, because they want a young driver they can build a long partnership with. Jack Daniels is signed to be the sponsor of the car through 2009, but they maybe forced off the car. If that happens, they could travel to one of Tony Stewart’s new teams.
Richard Childress Racing officials deny these reports, saying the sponsor will be on the car through 2009.

Reutimann to replace Petty in 45? Labonte in car at Chicagoland
David Reutimann’s name has cropped up as a possible replacement for Kyle Petty in the Petty Enterprises No. 45 Dodge. Petty has been on a six-week hiatus from the team, while he has been doing broadcasting for TNT. The team is well out of the Top 35 in owner’s points and many think that Petty’s best driving days are behind him. Reutimann and his current team, Michael Waltrip Racing, have a mutual option for his driving services next season. Reutimann, MWR, and Petty Enterprises all deny that Reutimann is a candidate to replace Kyle.
Reutimann currently drives the No. 44 UPS car, but UPS is likely leaving the team, possibly leaving that team’s status unknown. He sits 29th in the owner’s points.
Speaking of the No. 45, Chad McCombee was originally scheduled to pilot the car at Chicagoland, but Terry Labonte is driving it and did qualify for the race, due to his past champion’s provisional.

New crew chiefs for No. 84 and No. 00; Hensley to BHR
The drivers are not the only ones on the move this week. Ricky Viers is no longer the crew chief for the No. 84 and A.J. Allmendinger. He is being replaced by former Ganassi crew chief Jimmy Elledge, who got fired from the team earlier this year.
Another change this week occurred on the No. 00 MWR Toyota for driver Michael McDowell, as Peter Sospenzo takes the ropes atop the pit box for this team. Sospenzo has bounced around the garage in the sport’s top-3 series, working for teams such as Penske, Hendrick, and Robby Gordon. He replaces Bill Pappas, who now will be the head of engineering for the team.
In the Truck Series, Jeff Hensley is joining Bobby Hamilton Racing as a competition director for drivers Stacy Compton and Dennis Setzer. He previously was Mike Skinner’s crew chief on the No. 5 Bill Davis Racing Toyota. He was fired from the team, as the truck and driver have struggled this season.

Dillon to the Truck Series?
Some in the sport are hearing that 18-year old Austin Dillon, grandson of Richard Childress, may pilot a Craftsman Truck for up to three races this year. He currently drives a No. 3 car in the NASCAR Camping World East Series, for a team that his family runs.

One from left field: Ganassi and MWR?
Cup Series owners Michael Waltrip and Chip Ganassi were seen meeting together at restaurant this week, fueling speculation that they may be looking to merge their teams. Though they race for different manufacturers, MWR with Toyota and Ganassi with Dodge, Ganassi has been heavily involve in open-wheel racing, where Toyota has involvement.
Both teams are unified in the fact that they have faced financial troubles. While MWR’s problems have not been announced, the team is rumored to be bleeding money and to have laid off employees. UPS is sponsored to be leaving the team and the No. 00 has yet to land a full-time sponsor.
Ganassi announced last week that the No. 40 team and rookie driver Dario Franchitti were shut down for the season, because of insufficient funds. With that came a rolling lay-off of more than 70 employees. Franchitti has been offered a ride for the rest of the Nationwide Series with Ganassi. The two are scheduled to meet and decide their future together this weekend. Franchitti has said that he is still shocked by the team’s shut down.
If the two teams were to merge, they would be able to combine efforts and maximize sponsorship. Also, they would have to shut down one of their teams, because NASCAR enforces a four-team limit for any owner.

Ragan and Reed do well in Daytona
Unadilla’s David Ragan was impressive yet again on a restrictor plate track, finishing 5th in the Coke Zero 400, helping his race to the Chase efforts. Kyle Busch won that race and still leads the points. Ragan is now 14th in the points, 102 behind 12th place Tony Stewart and 100 points behind 13th place Kevin Harvick. This week, he and the No. 6 AAA Ford team will try to gain more ground at Chicagoland, where he finished 32nd last year.
Reed Sorenson has had two decent runs in a row in the No. 41 Target Dodge, finishing 22nd and avoiding any major trouble. He still sits 32nd in the driver points.
In the Nationwide Series, the No. 6 Discount Ford with Ragan behind the wheel. He finished 9th at Daytona and is still 5th in the points. Denny Hamlin won that race in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Tune in to the Bellamy Strickland 120 with myself and Captain Herb Emory, this Saturday, from 2-4 p.m., for all the latest racing info, on News/Talk 750 WSB in Atlanta, or on wsbradio.com.