Petty, Gillett Evernham merge

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's official. Petty Enterprises as it has been known no longer exists.

NASCAR's most storied franchise on Thursday announced it has agreed in principle to merge with Gillett Evernham Motorsports, ending the 60-year existence of the organization that won 10 Sprint Cup titles between Richard Petty (7) and his father, Lee (3).

The new organization, sources said, could be named Richard Petty Motorsports. It will run out of GEM's Statesville, N.C., shop and plans to field four cars -- the 43, 9, 19 and 10.

No driver lineup was announced. Multiple sources said plans call for the famous No. 43 that Petty drove to his titles to be driven by Reed Sorenson. Kasey Kahne will remain in the No. 9.

Previously, AJ Allmendinger was reportedly replacing Elliott Sadler in the No. 19. Subsequently, Sadler's attorney told ESPN.com earlier in the week there were plans to file a lawsuit to keep Sadler in the 19.

On Friday, however, sources told ESPN.com that GEM and Sadler have reached an agreement that enables him to drive the No. 19, thereby moving AJ Allmendinger to a part-time ride.

"I want to get back to winning and together we will bring the resources, technology and infrastructure to do that," Richard Petty said in a prepared statement on Thursday.

"This was a big decision for us, but it's something we really wanted to do. We hope everyone in the sport embraces what [GEM co-owner] George [Gillett] and I are doing. Nothing is going to change for me. I'm going to be at the track every weekend and really be involved with the teams and driver back at the shop."

Gillett said it is a privilege to help write a new chapter in the Petty family history.

"To join with Richard Petty and Petty Holdings is such an honor for me and my family," said Gillett, who also owns the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League. "Richard and I have gotten to know each other well over the last few years and both of us believe we have formed something that NASCAR fans will support.

"We plan to keep the Petty name in the forefront of NASCAR. We ask that all of the King's fans join with us. Our goal is to get the cowboy hat and sunglasses back in Victory Lane."

GEM and Petty officials announced last month they were negotiating a merger. At the same time Bobby Labonte, the driver of the 43 the past few seasons, and Petty Enterprises reached a mutual agreement to separate.

The 2000 Sprint Cup champion signed a four-year extension to remain in the 43 earlier this season when Boston Ventures purchased majority interest from Petty.

But with the car unsponsored -- General Mills is moving to Richard Childress Racing in 2009 -- and the future of the organization in doubt due to
financial difficulties, Labonte opted to seek employment elsewhere.

"A lot has changed over the years in NASCAR, but success still boils down to that cat holding the steering wheel and how he conducts himself both in and out of the car," Petty said. "I really want to help these guys with their driving and their careers."

Petty and Petty Holdings will continue to own and operate the Richard Petty Driving Experience as an independent entity. Robbie Loomis, the vice president of racing operations at Petty Enterprises, along with Brian Moffitt and Dale Inman will continue to play key roles with the new race team.

Ray Evernham, who sold majority interest of Evernham Motorsports to George Gillett in 2007, still owns 20 percent of the company. He was not involved in negotiations with the Pettys or the release of Sadler.

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