DEI, Ganassi to merge teams, go by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Tough economic times have led Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates to merge and form a four-car team in 2009.

Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing, both unable to secure sponsorship to fully fund their teams in 2009, will merge to form a four-car operation.

A key player in the merger was Dodge Motorsports, which gave its blessing to team owner Chip Ganassi to pursue the partnership with a Chevrolet organization.

"Number one, we want all of our business partners to be healthy like we want to be healthy,'' said Mike Delahanty, the senior manager of Dodge Motorsports. "Under these unprecedented times there are business solutions that no one ever thought possible.

"The blessing is, 'Chip, we want you to be healthy and viable long term. We want you to have a business plan that does that. Bring us a business plan that does that and we'll talk about it, even if means letting him go.'"

Ganassi has two years left on his deal with Dodge. Delahanty said no final decision has been made on how the merger will work, saying several scenarios have been proposed.

"We have explored Chevrolet only, Dodge only, a hybrid combination,'' he said. "Until the final i's are dotted and t's are crossed, we'll leave it at that.''

Sources close to the situation said the teams are expected to compete under the Chevrolet/General Motors banner of DEI. That would leave Dodge with three cars in Penske Racing, three in Gillett Evernham Motorsports and one or two in Petty Enterprises.

"The bigger news is these guys have a plan to form some kind of alliance,'' Delahanty said. "It's like a mini-series. Episode 1, a new four-car team. Episode 2, 3 and 4, whose race shops or who's driving or who the manufacturer may be?

"Stay tuned.''

Episode 1 began with the announcement that Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1) and Aric Almirola (No. 8) will remain the drivers from the DEI side and Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42) will be kept from Ganassi.

The driver of the fourth car (No. 41) will be named at a future date. AJ Allmendinger, Scott Riggs and Regan Smith are among the candidates for that seat.

"Having a partner like Chip who is heavily involved on the competition side of the business is an ideal situation for DEI," DEI owner Teresa Earnhardt said in a prepared statement. "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."

Ganassi said the merger was necessary to "sustain the strongest team possible.''

"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 organizations as well as all of our partners."

Both organizations have been unable to secure sponsorship to fully fund their teams in 2009, forcing both to look for other sources of revenue to stay competitive.

Others details such as which shop the team will work out of have yet to be decided. Both DEI and Ganassi have facilities capable of handling a four-car operation.

The impact on DEI's engine program with Richard Childress Racing has not been announced either, but sources said RCR hopes to maintain that relationship. Such a relationship would not work if any of the four cars are associated with Dodge.

Despite the merger, only two of the four cars -- the No. 1 with Bass Pro Shops and No. 41 with Target -- currently are fully funded for next season. The No. 42 is sponsored for half a season with Wrigley's and Big Red. The No. 8 lost the U.S. Army as its primary sponsor.

Delahanty wishes both organizations well.

"It's more important under these times to keep teams viable,'' he said. "It's good for the teams and good for the sport. We could be selfish. But what we want and Chevy wants for DEI is a business solution that is good for everybody.''

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.