Despite Toyota talk, Dodge expects GEM to stay with automaker in '09
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dodge officials expect Gillett Evernham Motorsports to remain with the manufacturer next season, despite reports the team wants to abandon the slumping automaker for a deal with Toyota.
Mike Delahanty, senior manager for Dodge Motorsports programs, called a possible GEM switch to Toyota "nothing but pure speculation."
GEM is believed to be in talks to purchase Bill Davis Racing, one of the original Toyota teams, as a way to expand to four cars.
A Fox Sports report said the acquisition of BDR would pave the way for Gillett to switch to Toyota.
"Dodge and Gillett Evernham have a long history that dates back to our return to Sprint Cup racing. Dodge and GEM have a long-term contract in place, and we plan to continue as partners in NASCAR," Delahanty said in a Tuesday national conference call.
"We're aware and have had discussions about GEM's interest in adding a fourth car, but there's been never any discussion about running anything other than anything but a Dodge. Anything beyond that, we classify as just pure speculation."
Ray Evernham founded the race team around Dodge's return to Cup racing in 2001. His two cars were among the original Dodge entries, and both were sponsored by the automaker. The team eventually expanded to three teams, and Evernham sold majority ownership last season to businessman George Gillett Jr.
GEM in February entered a support agreement with Robby Gordon, then revealed earlier this month it had a side deal to purchase Gordon's race team at the end of this year. GEM is now suing Gordon, accusing him of being in breach of that contract as the team seeks to terminate the purchase promise.
The filing of that suit led to speculation that GEM has its sights set on buying another race team as part of its effort to expand to four cars.
Bill Davis' one-car team has a lucrative Toyota deal, but is lacking the sponsorship needed to be competitive. Michael Waltrip Racing, another struggling Toyota team, could also be a target. Waltrip has three cars, but only one has full-time sponsorship locked up for 2009.
Toyota Racing Development president Lee White has declined to discuss team contracts, but recently said the automaker had room to add teams to its growing fleet. He added an organization would not have to purchase or merge with an existing Toyota deal to get a contract with the automaker.
Dodge, meanwhile, is lagging beyond other manufacturers in the showroom and on the race track. It's the only one of the four NASCAR makes that failed to qualify for the Chase for the championship, even though Ryan Newman won the Daytona 500 in a Dodge and GEM driver Kasey Kahne posted two victories.
Still, Delahanty said Dodge has no plans to pull out of the Sprint Cup Series. The automaker recently said it would end its support of the third-tier Truck Series.
"We are committed," he said. "We've got long-term contracts in place, not only with Gillett Evernham but with Penske Racing, with Petty and with Chip Ganassi Racing, so we're committed to the sport and I don't know how many times we have to repeat it."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press