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No. 8 car idles, awaiting sponsorship

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Earnhardt Ganassi Racing president Steve Lauletta is optimistic the No. 8 car made famous by Dale Earnhardt Jr. will return to the track one day, but not until sponsorship is found.

Lauletta confirmed on Wednesday an ESPN.com report that operations for the car driven by Aric Almirola has been suspended until sponsorship is found. Lauletta would not confirm how many employees were released, but sources said the total would be between 40 and 50.

"The plan was to run the 8 all season," Lauletta said. "We worked really hard to get a few sponsors. We're working really hard to continue to get it back on the track.

"But when you're in the position we're in where you don't know what sponsor goes on a car a couple of weeks out, how the team is going to progress in order to race two and three weeks out, it takes a lot of focus away from everybody at the shop."

Lauletta said those things have been a distraction even for the No. 42 team of Juan Pablo Montoya, which is 13th in points.

"Now that we've had to make this decision, the focus in the entire shop will settle down and get back to being on the 42 and 1 [Martin Truex Jr. ]," he said.

Almirola ranks 37th in owner points heading into next week's race at Phoenix International Raceway. He is 59 points behind rookie Joey Logano, who occupies the final spot for the top 35 guaranteed a position in each race.

Almirola has an average finish of 32.9 this season, finishing no better than 21st in seven races and no better than 33rd the past three.

Parking that car leaves EGR with two full-time drivers in Truex Jr. and Montoya. Sources deny a report that Truex has a clause in his contract that would free him and primary sponsor Bass Pro Shops if he doesn't have at least two full-time teammates.

The No. 8 was made famous at DEI with NASCAR's most popular driver, Earnhardt, behind the wheel. Earnhardt won 17 of his 18 Cup victories in that car before leaving for Hendrick Motorsports last season.

Earnhardt attempted to keep the number, but after failing switched to the No. 88.

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