Changes could be coming to JGR

Published 5:17 am Monday, June 4, 2007

By Staff
By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
DOVER, Del. — Joe Gibbs Racing is negotiating to bring Chevrolet back next season and might be talking with Dale Earnhardt Jr. to come along for the ride.
No doubt, there’s been plenty going on behind the scenes at Joe Gibbs Racing over the past week, and team officials have stayed tightlipped on all the swirling speculation.
From the possible signing of Earnhardt, NASCAR’s hottest free agent, to overtures made by Toyota, racing team president J.D. Gibbs has plenty to consider over the next few weeks.
If Gibbs is serious about bringing Junior into the fold, well, he’s not saying. JGR Racing is believed to be in the thick of the hunt to sign Earnhardt, though Gibbs said on Sunday he had not yet talked to NASCAR’s most popular driver.
Earnhardt’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, is handling contract talks and had set an end of June deadline to get a new deal done, if not sooner.
Without naming teams, Earnhardt said on Friday that he’s visited some of the top teams in NASCAR. Gibbs declined to comment if JGR is one of the teams that Earnhardt visited.
But Earnhardt also said he wants to keep driving Chevys, so that certainly would give JGR every reason to stay with the manufacturer. So if Chevy stays, does that make JGR a clear front-runner?
Gibbs also refused to say if he’s even talked with Toyota. JGR’s contract with GM is up at the end of the year, and Gibbs said they’ve just started the re-negotiation process.
They had a few extra hours to review the proposal on Sunday if they wanted after heavy rain forced NASCAR to push back a Nextel Cup race for the third time in the last four points races. The Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway will start at noon on Monday.
Ryan Newman and Earnhardt will start on the front row at the Monster Mile. Points leader Jeff Gordon starts sixth.
Hendrick Motorsports has won five straight races and nine in the past 10 Nextel Cup races.
The Car of Tomorrow will make its sixth appearance Monday in a Nextel Cup race, and it could get perhaps its toughest test yet on the concrete mile oval, high-banked track.
Almost as uncertain as where Junior will land.
Should JGR sign with Toyota, that could be a deal breaker for Junior. Then again, Earnhardt also wants to keep Budweiser as his sponsor, and Gibbs was adamant again that Bud is not for them.
Joe Gibbs Racing already has a sponsorship deal with Starter, which is owned by Nike.
JGR already fields cars for Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley, and the team is not ready to become a four-car operation in 2008.
That could be dicey for Yeley, who scored a career-best second-place finish last week in the Coca-Cola 600.
Gibbs and the JGR officials like Yeley and have invested a lot in him, and they’d desperately like for him to find success at their organization. But his contract is up at the end of the season and he could be running out of time to show results.
While Stewart and Hamlin are both in top 10 of the Chase, Yeley is 15th.
Perhaps Yeley could find a spot with Hall of Fame racing, owned by former Dallas Cowboys greats Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. JGR has a loose affiliation with the Cowboys crew and it could send Yeley there to make room for Earnhardt.
Toyota, which has struggled this year in its rookie season in Nextel Cup racing, wants to become a major player in the stock car scene and would love to form an association with one of the heavyweights like JGR.
An important part, for sure, but now all JGR might have to decide is if it’s more important than signing Earnhardt.