It's official. Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Petty Holdings are merging - but into what?

The belated announcement of the deal came Thursday night - barely two hours before the opening kickoff of the BCS championship game between Florida and Oklahoma - without mention of the new organisation's name.

It's a good thing "Keystone Cops" is already taken.

The first steps toward combining the two companies has been about as smooth as the old racing surface at Darlington. In addition to deciding on a name, owners George Gillett, Richard Petty, Boston Ventures and Ray Evernham still must reveal their full driver line-up and which cars the drivers will be driving.

That's not as simple as it might appear, given Gillett Evernham's recent on-again, off-again relationship with driver Elliott Sadler.

Sadler drove GEM's #19 Dodge to a 24th-place finish in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup standings last season, after signing a contract extension with the team that was to keep him behind the wheel through 2010.

Enter AJ Allmendinger, hired as a temp to drive GEM's #10 car for the final five races of the season, after the team parted with Patrick Carpentier. Allmendinger posted an average finish of 16.4 over those five events. Sadler's average finish over that same stretch was 31.8.

With ample food for thought, the brass at GEM decided Sadler was expendable. The driver's lawyer, John Buric, acknowledged publicly that the team had sought to negotiate a buyout of Sadler's contract.

GEM wanted to replace Sadler with Allmendinger, but when push came to shove, Sadler pushed back. Full-time Cup rides and sponsorships are precious these days, and there's no guarantee an ousted 24th-place driver could find a comparable situation elsewhere.

Accordingly, Sadler filed notice of intent to sue for breach of contract. Buric insisted his client wanted the car he was contracted to drive, not a buyout.

Sadler's recalcitrance was a complication the merger deal didn't need, and Gillett capitulated. Sadler is back behind the wheel of the #19 Dodge. Allmendinger's agent, Tara Ragan, said Friday that driving for GEM is an option the Allmendinger still is considering.

Now that GEM has agreed to keep Sadler - like a mole you decide to live with rather than having it surgically removed - the "making nice" process has begun.

"We are a family," GEM CEO Tom Reddin said Friday in a statement confirming Sadler's status as the driver of the #19. "Sometimes in a family you have differences. We have resolved all differences. We are moving on and excited about heading to Daytona."

Predictably, Sadler was equally gracious.

"I want to drive," he said. "I'm a racer and that's what I do. We are all on the same page now, and I think you will see that show on the track."

The other pieces of this deal are slowly being revealed. Reddin said Friday on Sirius NASCAR Radio that the merger would put new hire Reed Sorenson, who signed on to drive the #10 Dodge this season, in the #43 instead.

"Yeah, pre-merger, Reed is in the #10 but post-merger Reed will be in the #43 for next year," Reddin said Friday in response to a question from David Poole.

Kasey Kahne, who has driven the #9 Dodge for his entire Cup career, is staying put. By the process of elimination, that would leave Allmendinger with a part-time ride in a fourth car, should he sign with the new team.

In all fairness, a lot of good can come from this merger. If it helps to revive a moribund Petty organisation and helps preserve, perhaps even elevate the stature of seven-time champion Richard Petty, NASCAR racing will be better for it.

If it's a wake-up call for Sadler, that won't be a bad thing either. Since 2004, when he won twice for Yates Racing and qualified for the first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the Virginia driver's performance hasn't risen to the level of his undeniable talent.

Maybe the forestalled ouster will provide Sadler with the motivation he needs.

The merger is set to close by the end January, a week before the new organisation's cars will compete in the Budweiser Shootout.

By then, it may even have a name.

by Reid Spencer / Sporting News