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Watch for merging traffic in the Sprint Cup

Because of economic cutbacks, many Sprint Cup drivers switched teams, formed new teams or blended with other teams for the 2009 season.

February 05, 2009|Jim Peltz

Driver rosters for the elite teams in NASCAR's premier Sprint Cup Series in 2009 are largely the same as last season.

But many fans might need a program to keep track of the NASCAR drivers among the sport's second-tier teams for at least the first few races, including the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Feb. 22.

That's because there was widespread shuffling of drivers during the winter, in part the result of the teams' mergers and cutbacks in the face of the slumping economy.

Yet despite all the changes, the same stock car racers who vied for the title in 2008 are expected to be the main contenders again this season, starting with reigning champion Jimmie Johnson.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, February 07, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 107 words Type of Material: Correction
Auto racing: A schedule of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in Thursday's Auto Racing special section referred to the Oct. 11 race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana as the Sharp Aquos 500 and said it started at 10 a.m. The race is called the Pepsi 500 and has a start time of 12:30 p.m. In addition, a chart of 2009 NASCAR drivers and team affiliations listed on nascar.com that ran in that special section contained several affiliations from the 2008 season instead of 2009. A list of current NASCAR drivers and their affiliations will run in the Sports section before the Daytona 500 on Feb. 15.

The El Cajon, Calif., native won NASCAR's Chase for the Cup playoff to capture his third consecutive title in his No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, tying a 30-year-old record set by Cale Yarborough.

"All the teams that made the Chase will be back, and they're the ones we'll be racing," said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing. "Those teams aren't going to miss a beat."

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88), NASCAR's most popular driver, also remain at Hendrick.

But even the Hendrick team made one change as veteran Mark Martin replaced Casey Mears, with Martin hoping to finally win his first title at age 50 in the No. 5 Hendrick Chevy.

Mears, in turn, moved to Richard Childress Racing and the Bakersfield native takes over driving the No. 07 Chevrolet that had been driven by the team's Clint Bowyer.

Bowyer will now drive the No. 33 car for Childress, whose other drivers continue to be Kevin Harvick (No. 29) and Jeff Burton (No. 31). All three drivers made last year's Chase.

Another powerhouse team, Roush Fenway Racing, will have the same lineup of Ford drivers as in 2008: Carl Edwards (No. 99), Greg Biffle (No. 16), Matt Kenseth (No. 17), David Ragan (No. 6) and Jamie McMurray (No. 26).

Edwards won a series-high nine races last year -- including the rain-delayed February race at Auto Club Speedway -- but finished 69 points behind Johnson for the championship. Biffle was third, 148 points behind.

Among the other Cup teams, it has been a merry-go-round of changes.

Two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart left Gibbs to be an owner/driver at his own team, Stewart-Haas Racing.

So Gibbs elevated 18-year-old rising star Joey Logano to take over the No. 20 Gibbs Toyota. He'll join Gibbs' two other relatively young drivers, Kyle Busch (No. 18) and Denny Hamlin (No. 11).

Busch, of course, set the sport on fire during the regular season last year with eight wins. But he faltered early in the Chase with mechanical failures and finished 10th in the standings.

"Luck happened to bite us at the wrong time," Busch said. "During the middle part of the year sometimes it was too easy to win a race. Then you could kind of see the luck wearing away and then, eventually, it was gone."

Stewart, meanwhile, will drive the No. 14 Chevrolet for his new team. He also recruited Ryan Newman, last year's Daytona 500 winner, from Penske Racing to be his other driver in the No. 39 Chevy.

That prompted Penske to hire David Stremme to take over the No. 12 Dodge and join teammates Kurt Busch (No. 2) and Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77).

Elsewhere, Dale Earnhardt Inc. merged with the team of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, and the combined team will field at least three cars in the Cup series this season.

Juan Pablo Montoya remains in the No. 42 Dodge for the new Earnhardt Ganassi Racing but assumes the Target sponsorship that had been on the No. 41 car driven for Ganassi last year by Reed Sorenson.

EGR also will have Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1) and Aric Almirola (No. 8), along with possibly a fourth car in some races with a driver to be named later.

Another merger occurred when Gillett Evernham Motorsports acquired Petty Enterprises, the team led by seven-time champion Richard Petty. The new team renamed itself Richard Petty Motorsports and its Cup drivers include Kasey Kahne, a two-time winner last year in the No. 9 Dodge; Elliott Sadler in the No. 19; and Sorenson driving the No. 43 made famous by Petty.

Californian A.J. Allmendinger also will drive at least a partial schedule for the team in the No. 44 Dodge.

Bobby Labonte, who left Petty after last year, now drives the No. 96 Ford for Hall of Fame Racing, a single-car team now being managed by Yates Racing.

In addition, Labonte will start the season with the points earned last year by Yates' David Gilliland of Riverside.

The team said its other drivers are Paul Menard (No. 98), who switched from DEI, and Travis Kvapil (No. 28) for at least the first few races.

As for Gilliland, "David doesn't have a ride right now" although he remains under contract with Yates Racing, team co-owner Doug Yates said recently. "Hopefully there's something out there that we can put together for him."

The Red Bull Toyota team will continue with Brian Vickers (No. 83) and Californian Scott Speed (No. 82).

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