Chip Ganassi Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. will merge operations beginning with the 2009 Sprint Cup season, the teams announced in a news release Wednesday.

Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will field the NASCAR-maximum four Sprint Cup cars in 2009, thus cutting out two full-time cars that DEI operated in 2008.

The Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing driver line-up will be Martin Truex Jr. in the #1 and Aric Almirola in the #8 from DEI, Juan Pablo Montoya in the #42 from Ganassi and a driver still to be determined for the #41.

Truex has previously announced sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops, and Montoya has a half-season sponsorship from Wrigley's. Ganassi executives have been adamant that Montoya would not go to the #41 Target-sponsored car, and it is expected that Target will go with Almirola or the driver the team still needs to hire.

"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. "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."

The news release did not mention a manufacturer. DEI currently fields Chevrolets with engines from Earnhardt-Childress Racing Technologies. Ganassi has its own engine department for his Dodge programme. Although a manufacturer wasn't announced, Chevy's NASCAR program manager Pat Suhy said last Friday that none of his teams could have a relationship with a non-Chevrolet organisation.

The merger caps a season in which neither organisation could muster a win and both have dealt with dire sponsorship situations.

"In this ultra-competitive era of NASCAR, it is necessary to build and sustain the strongest team possible, and our combining with the people and equipment at Dale Earnhardt Inc. will help create a strong four-car programme for years to come," Chip Ganassi Racing owner Chip Ganassi said. "This is a win-win for both organisations as well as all of our partners."

DEI had operated four teams this year, but Truex was the only full-time driver signed to return. Almirola and Mark Martin had shared the #8 car, and Almirola was signed for 2009 while Martin left for Hendrick Motorsports and sponsor U.S. Army left for Ryan Newman at Stewart-Haas Racing.

DEI driver Paul Menard is taking his family home improvement store sponsorship with him to Yates Racing. The status of current DEI driver Regan Smith, who had sponsor Principal for some races this year, is unknown.

Chip Ganassi Racing started the season fielding three teams but folded the team of driver Dario Franchitti midway through the year after sponsorship didn't materialise. Montoya and Reed Sorenson have driven the full season, with Sorenson leaving the Target team to go to Gillett Evernham Motorsports, and Montoya's half-season sponsor, Texaco/Havoline, having announced it was leaving the sport after 2008.

There was no indication in the news release of who would run the team. Both organisations already have presidents - Max Siegel at DEI and Steve Lauletta at Ganassi. Ironically, Ganassi's competition director, Steve Hmiel, was released from DEI and then landed at Ganassi last year.

by Sporting News