The pending merger between Petty Holdings and Gillett Evernham Motorsports is pending no more.

What remains to be seen is who will drive the four cars fielded by the new organisation, though reports Thursday night indicate Elliott Sadler, not AJ Allmendinger, will drive the #19 car in 2009.

The agreement in principle to form a team owned by Richard Petty, Petty Holdings (owned by majority shareholder Boston Ventures) and GEM was announced by the parties Thursday night in a joint release. The deal is expected to close by the end of the month.

Thursday's release did not include the new company's name, car numbers or driver line-up, though Kasey Kahne will continue to drive the #9 Dodge for the new organisation. Ray Evernham will retain a minority interest in the new company.

In agreeing to the merger, Petty gave assurances he will remain actively involved in the operation.

"This was a big decision for us, but it's something we really wanted to do," Petty said in the release. "We hope everyone in the sport embraces what (GEM co-owner) George (Gillett) and I are doing. Nothing is going to change for me. I'm going to be at the track every weekend and really involved with the teams and drivers back at the shop.

"We are very happy. George and I have a lot of work to do, but we have a plan and we'll be ready for Daytona."

The team plans to run three full-time cars in 2009 and a fourth Dodge for eight races (perhaps more, depending on sponsorship). GEM signed Reed Sorenson to drive the #10 car starting in 2009, but with the merger, Sorenson likely will drive the vaunted #43, since that car finished the 2008 season in the top 35 in owner points, and the #10 did not.

There are loose ends that must be resolved, among them the status of the #19 car.
FoxSports.com reported Thursday night that Sadler will drive the car, despite reports last week that GEM was negotiating with Allmendinger to replace Sadler in the ride. Last year, Sadler signed a contract extension with GEM that runs through 2010.

Sadler's attorney, John Buric, told Sirius Radio's Dave Moody that the driver was unwilling to accept a buyout and intended to fulfil his contract. Sadler on Dec. 31 filed notice of intent to sue for breach of contract in North Carolina Superior Court, naming Gillett, GEM, Ray Evernham Enterprises and Allmendinger as defendants. The FoxSports.com report cites multiple sources as confirming Sadler, not Allmendinger, will be in the car in 2009.

The furore surrounding the #19 car aside, Kahne, who has spent his entire Cup career in the #9 Dodge, was enthusiastic about the merger.

"This is pretty exciting stuff," Kahne said. "I've gotten to know Richard over my five years working with Dodge, and I look forward to being around him more. This is pretty awesome. The Gilletts have done a fantastic job of putting this together. I think you can see their commitment to winning. We could have kept on the same path, but they made a pretty bold statement that they are here to win."

Despite winning two points races and the Sprint All-Star Challenge in 2008, Kahne failed to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, as Dodge drivers were shut out of the top twelve. The last victory for a Petty car came in 1999 at Martinsville with John Andretti, but Gillett sees the new partnership as a major positive step.

"Richard and I have gotten to know each other well over the last few years, and both of us believe we have formed something that NASCAR fans will support," Gillett said. "We plan to keep the Petty name in the forefront of NASCAR. We ask that all of the King's fans join with us. Our goal is to get the cowboy hat and sunglasses back in victory lane."

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News