If Truex leaves, it could mean the end of merger and demise of DEI
Talk has re-emerged that Martin Truex Jr., who had signed up to drive for DEI (Now Earnhardt Ganassi) for the 2009 season, may in fact be looking elsewhere for a ride. The issue involves the contracts he and his sponsor Bass Pro Shops have with DEI, which require him to have two full-time teammates for the deal to stand.
Currently, in addition to Truex’s fully sponsored team, the #41 car has a full Target sponsorship and the #42 has a partial sponsorship from Juicy Fruit. The #8 DEI car currently has no sponsor for 2009. Though all four would show up at the track to compete each week, Truex may legally be allowed to get out of his contract by claiming the Ganassi cars are only his teammates as a result of this merger. Or even if they count as teammates, there is only 1.5 seasons worth of sponsorship, less than the two specified in the contracts as a requirement.
The details can be argued, and perhaps Truex is just posturing and won’t leave at all, but this is further proof how important someone with a sponsor has become in the garage during this difficult time for the economy. Truex is a solid driver, no doubt, but if you compare him to the rest of the garage he’s far from spectacular. He’s had some good runs, but I wouldn’t exactly call him a superstar.
But compared to his teammates at Earnhardt Ganassi (an unproven Almirola, a struggling Montoya and perhaps a past-his-prime Bobby Labonte) Truex is a stud and the team will do everything it can to keep him. If he were to leave, they would be in an even worse spot than they are right now. Both DEI and Ganassi have struggled mightily over the past few years, and this would be a crushing blow to the newly merged team. Considering there is no driver running around with an attached sponsor, it’s likely the team would only have three drivers.
Even more shocking is the possibility that the merger could be made null and void by a Truex departure. Look at the state of DEI. They had four cars in 2008. The #01 disappeared due to lack of sponsorship. The #15 disappeared when Paul Menard jumped ship. If Truex takes his sponsorship away to another team, the #1 could potentially disappear because there would be no way to operate the team without sponsorship money. That leaves the #8, which has a young, unproven driver and no sponsor.
Why would Ganassi want to stay merged to that?
That would leave DEI as a standalone team with one car and no sponsor … which would mean it’s time to sell the shop and lock the doors. (or, as an alternative, Jr. could swoop in with a few bucks to buy the team at a discount, fulfilling his dad's hopes for the company).
In short, what happens with Truex will have much deeper implications than where he's driving next year. It will be very interesting to see how it all plays out.