Rumor mill in high gear right now

October, 26, 2010

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Lots of rumors are floating around the Sprint Cup world, so let me share what I have been told.

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing officials don't deny that Ford has approached them about switching manufacturers in 2011. They also say there are no plans to leave Chevrolet, in part because of the long-standing relationship the Earnhardt part of this equation has with General Motors, not to mention the Earnhardt Childress Racing engines that arguably are the best in the business at the moment.

Not that there's not a part of co-owner Chip Ganassi that wouldn't like to start his own engine department again. He admits shutting down that operation was one of the toughest things he's had to do when the merger with Dale Earnhardt Inc. happened a few years ago.

It's just not in the cards now. This is no different than when Toyota wooed EGR a year ago.

Several crewmen from Richard Petty Motorsports were unsure the doors would be open when they arrived at the shop Monday morning.

According to the public relations department at RPM, it was business as usual.

That doesn't mean the financial struggles are over. There are no guarantees RPM will continue past Talladega, although parties from all sides are working hard to keep the four-car operation afloat.

According to Jack Roush, who supplies chassis and engines to RPM, Richard Petty is trying to muster up investors to purchase controlling interest of the organization from financially-strapped George Gillett. Petty declined to speculate, saying only that he's been in the sport since 1949 and he doesn't plan to leave until "they run me off."

It's in Roush's best interest to keep RPM afloat as well because he needs the chassis and engine leasing business at Roush Fenway Racing and Roush Yates Engines.

Meanwhile, the two drivers RPM has signed to drive next season are doing their best to put up a good front. AJ Allmendinger gathered his troops at Martinsville and gave them a pep talk. Marcos Ambrose said he has been assured the RPM boat will remain afloat.

Conspiracy theorists suggest NASCAR let Jimmie Johnson get away with one by not penalizing the No. 48 team after asking it to replace a drive shaft cover during Sunday's pre-race inspection.

It really was no big deal, folks. NASCAR discovered stress cracks in the cover and simply asked the team to replace it. It wasn't a cheater part in an effort to help Johnson win a fifth straight title.

Joe Gibbs Racing is preparing for next year's Nationwide Series on the assumption NASCAR will not allow full-time Sprint Cup drivers to compete for the title. That probably means putting a young driver in the series full time.

Look for other teams to do the same.

Brian Vickers has been medically cleared by his doctors to race next year, but he hasn't been cleared by NASCAR. We won't know for sure if he'll be in the No. 83 in 2011 until he gets off blood thinners sometime in the next month or two and there are no reoccurrences.

That's why Red Bull Racing flat out hasn't said Scott Speed is out of a ride after this season.

But if Vickers does return, Speed will be looking for a ride now that Kasey Kahne has signed with the organization. There's a clause in Speed's contract that says if he's not in the top 16 in points, Red Bull Racing has no contractual obligations to keep him in the No. 82. He is 27th.

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon is having a press conference Wednesday to announce that an anti-hunger campaign coordinated through AARP will be one of his new sponsors for 2011.

The jokes already have been coming about how the campaign really is to fund the feeding of 51-year-old Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin, who lives on goji berries and whey shakes. A few suggested it was to fund eating for me after I recently lost 22 pounds on the Martin diet.

Everyone wants to be a comedian.

What we know is that long-term sponsor DuPont is taking a lesser role on the car after this season, so team owner Rick Hendrick has been scrambling to find replacements. There were flirtations with Mobil 1, Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven.

Mobile 1 committed to Tony Stewart, a deal with Wal-Mart couldn't be had because of an exclusion contract with Lowe's, the primary sponsor for Jimmie Johnson. Hearing the AARP deal could still involve Wal-Mart as a contributor.

Stay tuned. The rumor mill never stops.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer
David Newton is an NFL reporter at ESPN and covers the Carolina Panthers. Newton began covering Carolina in 1995 and came to ESPN in 2006 as a NASCAR reporter before joining NFL Nation in 2013. You can follow Newton on Twitter at @DNewtonespn.


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