Petty Enterprises is in discussions to merge its storied franchise with Gillett Evernham Motorsports, the

Associated Press

has learned.

Multiple people familiar with the talks told the AP yesterday that the two teams were discussing a deal that would merge Petty's famed No. 43 Dodge with GEM to become a four-car operation. They requested anonymity because the negotiations are ongoing. first reported that Petty Enterprises' top operation will not return in 2009. But David Zucker, CEO of Petty Enterprises, said the report was "not accurate."

Petty, the team founded by seven-time series champion Richard Petty, has no full-time sponsorship lined up for next season. The team fields its flagship No. 43 for 2000 NASCAR champion Bobby Labonte and a second car that Chad McCumbee and Kyle Petty shared this season. Kyle Petty was expected to have a minimal role - if any - with the organization next season.

In other auto racing news:

* Honda will pull out of Formula One unless a new buyer can be found within 3 months, the Associated Press reported. The Japanese car manufacturer has the operating budget to keep the team running into early 2009, but escalating operational costs amid the worldwide financial crisis have the Brackley-based outfit in danger of shutting down if a new sponsor is not found quickly.

Sport Stops

* Michelle Wie shot a 7-under 65 for a tie for the lead with Japan's Shiho Oyama after the second of five rounds at the LPGA Tour qualifying tournament in Daytona Beach, Fla. The top 20 players after the 90-hole tournament Sunday earn their LPGA Tour cards for next season.

* Pierre Chabloz, founder of the European Gymnastics Union and former secretary general of the Swiss Olympic Committee, has died. He was 91. *