Truex Jr. says smaller team can flourish

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- When Dale Earnhardt Inc. merged with Chip Ganassi Racing last year, the plan was to run four cars in NASCAR's top series.

It could be down to two.

Driver Martin Truex Jr. said Friday night that Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing is planning to field just three cars for next month's Daytona 500 -- with him, Juan Pablo Montoya and Aric Almirola behind the wheels. And Almirola said he has no guarantee to drive beyond the season-opening race because of sponsorship woes.

"As far as I can tell, I believe three," Truex Jr. said at NASCAR's preseason tour at Daytona International Speedway. "I'm pretty sure that's what's going on. ... I believe that's it. That's about all I've got there. Montoya, me and Aric."

Truex Jr. and Montoya are fully sponsored for 2009, but Almirola conceded his lack of sponsorship could be a problem this season.

"Chip and Teresa [Earnhardt] have to do whatever makes financial sense to them, and hopefully for me that means run 36 races," Almirola said. "For them, I hope that's the case because that means that they'll have been able to afford to do that. Now, saying that, I don't know. I'm not privy to look at their financial statements every week or every month, so I don't know what they're going to be willing to do and not do without a sponsor.

"The moral of the story is we need a sponsor badly. We need sponsorship dollars to be able to take our No. 8 Earnhardt-Ganassi with Felix Sabbatta's Chevrolet to every single race that we can. We need sponsorship dollars."

Teresa Earnhardt and Chip Ganassi combined their sponsorship-strapped teams in November in an effort to stabilize their organizations in a tough economic time.

Both struggled to secure sponsorship last season. Ganassi shuttered his No. 40 team in July when he couldn't find sponsorship for former Indy Racing League champion Dario Franchitti.

That move forced Ganassi to lay off 71 people. DEI reduced its staff with the new venture. Not running a fourth car could mean more cutbacks.

"It's terrible," Truex Jr. said.

Whether EGR runs two or three cars, it could be at a competitive disadvantage in 2009, especially with NASCAR's testing restrictions that force teams to rely more on sharing information.

"We're down to two or three, it makes it more difficult for us for sure," Truex Jr. said. "There's no two ways about it. Can we be successful? Yes, the best year we ever had we were a two-car team, 2007. So it can be done. We can do it. ... I think we've got a good group of guys put together that we can make it work."

The organization also lost Max Siegel this month, when he left to manage the Drive for Diversity program, which aims to develop minority and female drivers in NASCAR.

Siegel spent the last two seasons as head of global operations for DEI. Siegel's role diminished when DEI merged with Chip Ganassi Racing.