Last Look

Take a good look at the 43-car field that takes the green flag in Sunday's Ford 400 season finale because we may not recognize next year's Sprint Cup Series line-up.

Between the usual driver and team changes, mergers and acquisitions and some team just plain shutting down operations, the 2009 landscape is shaping up to be a radical change from this season.

The latest salvo came earlier this week when Ganassi Racing and DEI agreed to merge. The two struggling groups were basically forced to forge some kind of partnership and the end result is a four-car team with as many questions as answers.

DEI brings Martin Truex, Jr. and his Bass Pro Shops sponsorship to the party along with up-and-coming Aric Armirola. But at this point, the No. 8 ride has no major sponsor.

Left out was Regan Smith, who along with more than 100 other DEI employees, will be given his pink slip once this season comes to a close. Only a few weeks ago Smith came within en eyelash of winning his first career Cup race at Talladega in the great out of bounds line controversy. One has to wonder if it would have been Arimirola on the unemployment line had Smith pulled off that victory.

Ganassi has Juan Pablo Montoya in his No. 42 ride with a half-season of sponsorship from Wrigley. The team also brings the No. 41 entry with Target sponsorship into the deal, but with no driver yet named for 2009 to replace the departing Reed Sorenson.

It's anyone's guess who Ganassi will tab to pilot that car but it's safe to say it won't be someone from the open wheel world.

So while the Earnhardts and the Ganassis have forged a marriage to stay alive, there are other mid-tier and small teams still searching the garage personal ads for a partner.

GEM, Robby Gordon Motorsports, Furniture Row, Petty Enterprises and Bill Davis racing are just a few of the names who could be on the extinct list by 2009 is funding and/or a business partner isn't found soon.

Furniture Row already announced it would run a limited schedule next year while BDR, which had been in conversations with GEM, may become a truck series-only operation in 2009.

Teams point to the "E" word (it's the economy if you haven't figured it out yet) as the reason for all this downsizing and partnership chasing. And indeed the tightening of belts by corporate America has put a severe dent in the sponsorship money train that used to flow into the sport.

NASCAR has pledged its help in trying to help teams save expenses and although the COT hasn't done that yet, the hope is it will down the line.

There is a very real possibility that testing will be outlawed in 2009, with Daytona and Las Vegas pre-season sessions the exception. That would be a good start and one garage source told me the elimination of testing would save a team $4-$5 million next year.

But there needs to be more.

Shorter weekend schedules, with tracks hosting only two days of activities, is one option. Why waste time getting into town on Thursday to prepare for one hour of practice and qualifying on a Friday? Condense the itinerary into a Saturday-Sunday format and give teams a travel budget break as well as track operators a day on Saturday they can actually sell tickets for something fans want to see.

The guess is this will all get worse before it gets better but that things will improve. Unfortunately as in the case of most of the world, only the strong will survive.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2008

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