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GEM, Petty merger deal imminent.

The landscape of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series is about to change - radically.

According to reports on FoxSports.com and SceneDaily.com, Petty Enterprises is expected to lay off the majority of the 39 employees remaining at its shop in Mooresville, N.C., in anticipation of a merger with Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

An announcement of the merger is expected Monday, the FoxSports.com story said, although spokespersons from both organisations declined comment on the report.

Though team owner George Gillett reportedly plans to preserve the Petty name in the new organisation, the merger will close a chapter in NASCAR's 60-year history, during which cars of Petty Enterprises have been in its fields since 1949, the first year races were held in what is now the Sprint Cup Series.

The merged teams are expected to field three full-time cars in 2009: the #9 Dodge driven by Kasey Kahne; the #19 Dodge in which AJ Allmendinger will replace Elliott Sadler, as reported earlier this week; and the #43 Dodge to be driven by Reed Sorenson.

Sorenson originally signed with GEM to drive the #10 Dodge vacated by Patrick Carpentier, but the merger with Petty will bring to the equation a car (the #43) that, unlike the #10, finished the 2008 season in the top 35 in owner points. Under that scenario, all three GEM cars would be in the top 35 and thereby guaranteed starting spots in the first five races of 2009.

With 268 victories and 10 championships -- seven from Richard Petty and three from his father, Lee Petty -- Petty Enterprises is the most successful organization in the history of stock car racing. The family-founded organisation, however, hasn't won a race since John Andretti went to victory lane in April 1999 at Martinsville.

In June, Petty Enterprises announced a partnership with Boston Ventures, a private equity firm, but the organisation has been unable to secure sponsorship for the 2009 season. Bobby Labonte drove the #43 car for Petty in 2008, but he and the team parted company in December.

Petty's #45 Dodge, driven primarily by Kyle Petty, Terry Labonte and Chad McCumbee in 2008, reportedly will not figure in the plans of the merged organisation.


by Reid Spencer/Sporting News


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