With the few strokes of a couple of pens, Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and Petty Enterprises have basically ceased to exist. What was DEI is now partnered with Chip Ganassi Racing to become Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. At least the name remains, but little of what Dale must have envisioned for his family business will exist in 2009 and beyond. What was once NASCAR's greatest team has been swallowed up by a relatively new upstart, Gillett Evernham Motorsports. GEM will now own the most famous number in the sport's history, the 43.
It is likely that there will be no one named Petty racing in NASCAR in 2009. It is possible, for the first time since the very founding of the sport, that no one named Petty will even be involved in any of the teams in 2009. Has the era of Petty finally ended for good? If so, I personally am removing my hat and bowing my head in a moment of silence.
It appears that another founding team will only be seen on occasion in 2009. The Wood Brothers 21 is only planning to run a hand full of races in 2009, unless major sponsorship becomes available. For those of you who are old enough, or have been a fan long enough to remember those classic battles between the 21 Wood Brothers car driven by David Pearson and the 43 Petty Enterprises car driven by Richard Petty, knowing that the day has finally come that neither of these teams will even be a presence at the track is a very sobering realization. NASCAR has truly turned a full circle now.
Several drivers are looking for rides in 2009; the most prominent among them being Eliot Sadler and Bobby Labonte. Both drivers signed contract extensions with their owners during the 2008 season, yet both of them are looking for a ride for 2009. I sincerely hope that both of these drivers, and others as well, find the sponsorship and support they need to go racing in the Sprint Cup series in 2009.
All is not forlorn though. Even though fans have suffered through the usual doldrums that occur in the average off season, plus the knowledge of the tough times our sport faces, there is good news. It's now 2009, officially. As I write this, the 2009 Daytona 500 is only 42 days away, and even though because of testing bans, the Daytona Speedweeks will be somewhat shortened, the end of the tunnel is beginning to come into sight once again. In just a matter of weeks, the NASCAR faithful will once again be treated to the spectacle that is our sport's greatest race, and all the excitement that will entail.
I'll be saddened to see the teams who will not be at Daytona this year, and saddened by the passing of eras that many of us thought would never end, but as a fan, I am ready to get back to the pageantry, the drama, and the just flat out fun that is NACAR racing.