NASCAR & Auto Racing

Franchitti's race team shutting down

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi shut down Dario Franchitti's race team Tuesday because of a lack of sponsorship, putting the former IndyCar Series champion's future in doubt.

Franchitti, the 2007 Indianapolis 500 winner and series champion, has struggled in his first NASCAR season driving Ganassi's No. 40 Dodge. He ranks 41st in the driver standings, failed to qualify for races in Texas and Sonoma, Calif., and missed five with a broken ankle he suffered in a Nationwide Series crash at Talladega.

The poor performance came as Ganassi has searched all season for a sponsor for his third NASCAR team. Longtime sponsor Coors Light left at the end of last season, and Ganassi was unable to secure funding despite releasing David Stremme for the more marketable Franchitti, who is married to Kentucky icon Ashley Judd.

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

Ganassi's other two Sprint Cups teams are driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, in his second NASCAR season, and Reed Sorenson, who's in the final year of his contract. Montoya is 20th in the standings and Sorenson is 32nd.

The entire No. 40 team was shut down, which resulted in 71 layoffs that included managing director of operations John Fernandez, Ganassi said.

Ganassi said Franchitti was disappointed but understood the decision, and the two have to discuss down the road what Franchitti will do for the rest of the season. One possibility is Franchitti could drive for Ganassi in the Nationwide Series, but promising development driver Bryan Clauson is scheduled to drive the car this weekend at Daytona International Raceway.

Almirola full-time in '09

Dale Earnhardt Inc. will use Aric Almirola full-time next season in a promotion that will free Mark Martin to move to Hendrick Motorsports next season.

Almirola and Martin have shared a ride since the middle of last season, but Almirola will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet exclusively in 2008, DEI said Tuesday. Martin is expected to replace Casey Mears in Hendrick's No. 5 car, and an official announcement is scheduled for Friday at Daytona International Raceway.