19-year-old to be introduced Friday
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Reed Sorenson, a hotshot 19-year-old Busch Series driver, will run a full Nextel Cup schedule next season in a fourth team for Chip Ganassi Racing, two people within the team told The Associated Press on Thursday.
A formal announcement was scheduled for Friday at Watkins Glen International, and the two sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed that Sorenson would be introduced as the driver of the No. 41 Dodge. They did not want to be identified before Sorenson's official introduction.
Casey Mears, meanwhile, will remain with Ganassi in a different car, the sources said. The car number has not yet been determined, but the sponsor will be mortgage lender Home123, a new company to NASCAR.
Mears had an option in his contract for 2006 that the team picked up, and then gave him an extension to remove him from the free agent market.
Ganassi's planned 2006 lineup -- Jamie McMurray, Mears, Sorenson and David Stremme -- will have two rookies, and all four drivers are under 30 years old with just one Nextel Cup win among them. McMurray scored the last victory for the team in 2002 when he was filling in for an injured Sterling Marlin.
Marlin is being let go at the end of the season and replaced by the 28-year-old Stremme, who has risen through Ganassi's driver development program and is currently eighth in the Busch Series standings.
Sorenson also is part of Ganassi's development program and has taken off since moving to the Busch Series this season. He has two victories and is locked in a tight battle for the series championship. He is third in the standings, 104 points behind defending series champion Martin Truex Jr.
In addition to his move to Nextel Cup next season, Sorenson will continue to race the No. 41 in the Busch Series. It's a common strategy for younger drivers, who use the extra track time to prepare for the Cup races.
Mears, meanwhile, and been courted by several other teams, but Ganassi instead offered him a contract extension that Mears accepted.
"I came from open wheel stuff with no experience at all, and Chip gave me a first year," Mears said. "We suffered through that, the whole team did, and they've stuck by me the last couple years.
"I always wanted to stay here with Chip and turn this team into a winner."
Although he is winless in his three seasons with Ganassi, Mears is considered highly marketable with the potential to be one of NASCAR's elite drivers. He's shown considerable improvement in his three seasons and is coming off a sixth-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend.
Ganassi has been impressed with Mears' development, and has a great deal of respect for his family. Mears is the nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears.
Ganassi has now doubled the size of the team he formed in 2001, his first year in NASCAR, when he fielded just two cars. And adding a fourth car sheds light on his refusal to let McMurray out of his contract next season, as McMurray has requested.
McMurray has signed to drive the No. 6 Ford for Roush Racing in 2007 and, by announcing it so early, had hoped to get Ganassi to let him leave early. The car owner has been heavily scrutinized for refusing to do so, with garage insiders wondering why he wouldn't just speed up Sorenson's career and give him McMurray's seat in the No. 42.
But the creation of a fourth team with a full-time sponsor means Ganassi will have to look outside for a new driver when McMurray does leave. Holding him to his original deal gives Ganassi an extra year to find the replacement.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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