By admin | June 3, 2008
By Richard Allen
It has now been just over a year since the last win for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Martin Truex won the spring race in Dover in 2007.
At that time, however, the big news at DEI did not revolve around Truexâ€™s victory, but instead, the pending departure of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was making headlines for the company.
During negotiations a certain degree of animosity was apparent between Teresa Earnhardt and her step-children, Junior and his sister and business manager, Kelly Earnhardt-Elledge.
In the end it appeared as though Junior was happy to be moving on Hendrick Motorsports and DEI appeared not so distraught that he was leaving.
Even in what would be considered a down year for HMS most would consider Juniorâ€™s move a good one.
So, the question is, how are things going at DEI without Junior?
Performance wise the answer is that they are not doing great but then again they are not doing horribly. As said before, DEI has not won without Junior, but truth be told, they did not win with him for a year and a half either.
The #8 car shared by Mark Martin(10 races) and Aric Almirola(3 races) is actually DEIâ€™s best performing car. In owner point standings #8 is in 15th place, 17 points ahead of the #1 car of Truex. Martin has two Top 5 finishes and four Top 10s while Almirola has added a Top 10 of his own.
Truex has not returned to victory lane since last year on â€œThe Monster Mileâ€ but he did make last yearâ€™s Chase for the Championship. He sits in 15th place in the driver standings so far in 2008 with one Top 5 and four Top 10s. He has also had the misfortune of being caught in wrecks not of his own making which have hampered his season.
As far as drivers are concerned, the place where Juniorâ€™s departure hurt DEI the most was in the area of depth. The #01 car driven by Regan Smith has struggled all year and is dangerously close to the back end of the Top 35, currently sitting in 32nd place of the overall standings.
Had Junior been retained by DEI, he would be driving the #8 car while Martin would be sharing #01 with either Smith or Almirola. In which case the #01 would almost certainly be higher in the standings than 32nd.
Paul Menard is currently 27th in points with no top 10 finishes.
However, driver depth and performance are only part of the DEI/Junior separation story. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. brings much more to the table than just his driving ability.
The sportâ€™s unquestioned most popular driver also brings an almost incalculable market value with him. Souvenir sales and the ability to draw sponsors with large checkbooks provide tremendous value for whatever team employs him.
On the surface, it may not appear that DEI has not suffered very much performance wise by allowing Junior to get away. However, that may only be a short term result. The real and long term effect of â€œletting the cash cow out of the barnâ€ so to speak may not show up for a while but it almost certainly will show up.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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