Finally! Allmendinger’s talent is recognized as GEM gives him ride; Sadler gets the boot
After a rough start to his Cup career at the Red Bull team, including being replaced for a full month in 2008 by Mike Skinner after a particularly rough patch where he couldn‘t qualify, A.J. Allmendinger started to show the Cup world that he has the goods to compete in this series toward the end of the year, with strong runs first in the #84 Red Bull car and later in the #10 Gillett Evernham car.
This late-season resurgence apparently impressed his bosses at GEM enough to give him a ride. That’s not shocking, as anyone with common sense could see that he has the potential to do great things in Cup.
The shocking news is that he will drive the #19 car, and Elliot Sadler is being given the boot. One on hand, I’m not surprised. I recognize that Sadler was far from impressive during his time at GEM. He hasn’t won a race in the Cup series since 2004, and honestly I often forget he is even in the race. But at the same time, he was a pretty likable and marketable guy (apparently some sponsors aren’t very happy with this move) and has won races in the past, so it was pretty bold to dismiss him.
The reason this move was made comes down to two thing: An awesome finish to the year by Dinger and, even more importantly, the economy. Something not being said, but which can be implied by the fact that Sadler is not being moved to another car within the organization, is the #10 car will likely not run next year and Kahne and Dinger will be the cars from the GEM stable. If they had sponsors for three cars, Dinger would have taken over the #10 car full-time in 2009 and Sadler would have kept his ride. It’s pretty clear the team had to choose, and they went with the guy who’s young and on a hot streak over the guy who’s older and appears to getting farther and farther from Victory Lane each year.
Word is the merger with the Petty team is still on, but Reed Sorenson will get the #43 ride. No plans have been announced for the #10 car, and that's usually not a good sign. In this game of musical chairs, Sadler's mediocrity has left him without a seat when the music stopped.
Another note: It’s been reported that Ray Evernham has cleared out everything he had at the GEM offices, meaning that it’s more accurate to call it Gillett Motorsports from this point on. No surprise there, as Evernham indicated this was going to happen, but now it appears to be official.
In short, you can add the Gillett team to the list of Cup teams that are undergoing drastic overhauls for 2009 due to the inability to attract sponsors (DEI, Ganassi, Pettys, Wood Bros., etc..).
Sadler still has some ability and should land a ride somewhere, but I don’t see him ever being a major competitor again unless he can find his way to a top-level team in the future … which isn’t likely.
And last but certainly not least, I’d like to offer a big congratulations to Dinger. He got this ride the old-fashioned way: He earned it by showing he’s a tremendous talent. Now he must hope that the team can give him the equipment to compete at least occasionally with the Roush, Hendrick, Gibbs and RCR juggernauts that have been running the sport for the past several years. If he can pull out a win for the team in 2009, or even contend for one (something Sadler rarely did), this move will be validated.
If Dinger is as good as he has indicated he might be, Red Bull is going to regret letting go of him this past season in favor of Scott Speed.