Ever since his somewhat suprising release from Petty Enterprises’ No. 43 car, 2000 Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte’s name has been linked to the newly formed Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, a marriage between Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing. And, this could be a perfect match.
Even before Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s highly publicized departure from DEI before last season, the team was struggling to remain competitive. While Martin Truex Jr. made the Chase in 2007, Jr. lost six engines and crashed out of races twice.
As if losing Jr. wasn’t enough, the team had a mediocre, at best, 2008 season with Truex Jr. receiving a 150-point penalty and conflicting reports as to whether Truex had re-signed with the team.
At the end of the season, Mark Martin left the team for Hendrick Motorsports, like Jr. Paul Menard left, taking his sponsor with him to Yates Racing. The US Army left the team for Stewart Haas Racing. Everyone was abandoning ship.
At Chip Ganassi Racing, things weren’t much better. The team shut the doors to its No. 40 team and driver Dario Franchitti due to a lack of sponsorship money.
The team also fired Jimmy Elledge, which seemed to upset Juan Pablo Montoya. And, Montoya, at one point, was rumored to be leaving the team, while Reed Sorenson left the team for Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
When DEI and CGR merged to form EGR, they had Montoya, Truex Jr. and Aric Almirola under contract. They were missing a driver with a lot of NASCAR experience. They were missing a multiple race-winner. They were missing a veteran leader. In Labonte, they may have found all of that.
Labonte needs good equipment to be competitive, and EGR should be able to provide that. I know that the team has struggled, but some of that you have to put on its absentee owner, Teresa, who some say is not committed to winning.
Ganassi will be a presence at the track, and is committed to winning. He should be able to help keep the focus on on-track performance.
That, combined with Labonte’s leadership, should make any partnership a perfect match.