CHARLOTTE - Add Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the growing list of car owners searching for sponsorship.
The Navy is leaving the No. 88 Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series at the end of the season, forcing Earnhardt to search for funding for the flagship car at JR Motorsports.
"We were informed last week that our sponsorship with the U.S. Navy will not renew at the end of the year," team spokesman Mike Davis said. "It's been an exceptional partnership since 2005, and we look forward to a strong finish to the season as Brad Keselowski and the No. 88 Navy team contends for a
NASCAR Nationwide Series championship."
Keselowski gave the Navy its first NASCAR victory last month with a Nationwide win at Milwaukee. He's second in the series standings and trails Clint Bowyer by 202 points.
The Navy has been sponsor of Earnhardt's first car as a
NASCAR owner since the formation of JR Motorsports. Last year, he merged his operation with Hendrick Motorsports and now fields two cars out of his new shop in Mooresville, N.C.
Sponsorship woes are affecting many NASCAR teams in this economic downturn.
Several teams have stopped coming to races - the number of cars that attempted to qualify for Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Daytona was down eight from the 53 who attempted to make the season-opening Daytona 500.
Of those, six lacked full sponsorship.
Juan Pablo Montoya backed owner Chip Ganassi's decision to shutter Dario Franchitti's race team, believing it was for the betterment of the organization.
"I think the big picture people need to understand is we did this to make ourselves better," Montoya said. "Short-term, people might think the team is crazy. But if we didn't do this, we were never going to get any better."
Ganassi pulled the plug on the No. 40 team last week because he'd been unable to secure sponsorship for Franchitti, who was struggling through his first season in NASCAR. The 2007 Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion missed five races with a broken ankle, failed to qualify for two others, and was 41st in the standings when Ganassi pulled the plug.
Because he was funding the car out of his own pocket, Ganassi said he had to stop running the team or risk damaging Montoya and teammate Reed Sorenson's seasons. Montoya is 21st in the standings, and Sorenson is 32nd.
Had he continued running the No. 40, Montoya said he worried about the long-term effects it would have on Ganassi's entire NASCAR operation.
"It's rough because, the way I looked at it, was keep it running and two years down the line shut down the whole team," Montoya said. "Or do something about it now and make sure we're running better. I am sure once we start running good again, he'll find money to run a third car."
As long as Franchitti was outside the top-35 - the point where cars are not ensured a spot in the field - Montoya felt Ganassi would not be able to land a sponsor.
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