Ganassi cuts back, idling Franchitti, 70 others

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates pulled the plug Tuesday on its unsponsored the No. 40 Dodge team, driven by 2007 Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, scaling back operations from three Sprint Cup teams to two.

Dale Earnhardt Inc., meanwhile, confirmed that Aric Almirola will take over its No. 8 Chevrolets full time in 2009. Almirola is splitting this season in that ride with veteran Mark Martin, who appears to be headed back to full-time competition in the No. 5 Chervolets owned by Hendrick Motorsports.

Hendrick Motorsports has scheduled an announcement on the future of the No. 5 team for 12:30 p.m. Friday at Daytona International Speedway, the site of this week’s Coke Zero 400.

Martin, 49, scaled back from full-time competition following the 2006 season. He ran 24 races in 2007 and is scheduled to run 24 again this year for DEI, which said in its release regarding Almirola that Martin will move to a new team next season.

The decision to shut down the No. 40 team resulted in about 70 people losing their jobs at the Ganassi team, a team spokesperson confirmed.

"If I keep going, I run the risk of dragging the other two teams down," Ganassi told The Associated Press. "I don't want to do that. There's no money. It makes no sense to be running this out of my pocket. I had to put a stop to it."

The team said in a statement that it remains committed to Franchitti's development as a stock car driver. One option, it said, is running the 35-year-old native of Edinburgh, Scotland, in the remainder of the 2008 Nationwide Series in the No. 40 Dodge.

The team will continue to field the No. 41 Dodges for Reed Sorenson and the No. 42 Dodges for Juan Pablo Montoya.

Almirola, a 24-year-old from Tampa, Fla., has made 11 career Cup starts including five so far this year with DEI after coming to the team along with Martin when DEI and Ginn Racing merged last year. Almirola's best finish is eighth at Bristol earlier this year.

"When you get into racing, you always dream of competing at the highest level and I've had the chance to do that on a limited basis for the past two seasons," Almirola said.

"Now I will have the opportunity to race the car full time and I could not be more excited."

Martin said he believes Almirola is "destined for great things."

"There is no doubt Aric is ready to go full time," Martin said. "Aric is an incredible talent and a true student of the sport. Having him run a full-time program in the No. 8 was always part of the plan, but his development has allowed us to accelerate things."