By admin | June 28, 2008
By Richard Allen
In 1912 the Titanic sank in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. While it is well known the ship did not have enough life boats for all passengers, there were still more people who went down than should have. Part of the problem was the crew could not convince passengers that the unsinkable ship was, in fact, sinking.
It looks as if those associated with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. are not having the same problem as those on the Titanic. Everyone still on board seems to realize they are on a sinking ship and they appear to be headed for the life boats.
DEI has struck its own iceberg of sorts.
Make no mistake about it, when racing enthusiasts look back a few years from now and wonder, “What happened to DEI?” the answer will be a simple one. The demise of the company began just over a year ago when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. left, or was allowed to leave or was forced to leave, whichever view best fits the truth.
Just one year later the company started by seven time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, Sr. appears to be falling apart.
No doubt, when the company began racing in the then Winston Cup Series in 1996 it had the look of an unsinkable ship. That seemed even more true when, in 2000, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. began his full time Cup Series driving career.
A team owned by one of NASCAR’s greatest legends and driven by the driver who has become the most popular driver in the history of the sport would almost certainly make for an unstoppable force.
In fact, of course, DEI’s troubles can really be traced back to February of 2001. When Dale Earnhardt, Sr. died the company lost its founder and guiding force. It has just taken this long for everything to come completely unraveled.
Now, rumors are running rampant that drivers and sponsors are looking to jump ship.
Supposedly, Mark Martin, who joined DEI last year when Bobby Ginn sold his team, is headed for Hendrick Motorsports to take over for the departing Casey Mears in the #5 car. Along with Martin leaving the #8 Chevrolet, it has been said that the car’s sponsor, U.S. Army, is also looking to go elsewhere.
Martin is not the only DEI driver whose name has come up in the rumor mill. Martin Truex has also had speculation to arise concerning his future.
It had been announced earlier by DEI that the organization had picked up the option on Truex’s contract and he would be back with the company next season. However, Truex’s camp quickly came back and stated that DEI’s announcement had been premature, thus giving the appearance that the Mayetta, NJ driver was looking to at least listen to other offers.
Truex’s future, and thus DEI’s plan, appears to hinge on the movements of others. His name has come up as a possible fill in for Ryan Newman should that driver leave Penske Racing South. Also, Truex has been mentioned as a possible teammate of Tony Stewart should he actually form his own team. Still another possibility has Truex in the mix for the HMS open seat.
Besides Truex, DEI’s sponsor for the #1 car, Bass Pro Shops, may be looking to join forces with Stewart in some way. Stewart does have a relationship with the outdoor chain through the World of Outlaws team he owns.
And finally for DEI. The #01 car, currently driven by Regan Smith has struggled with performance and funding all season. The car is 30th in the owner point standings, placing it dangerously close to the back of the Top 35 in the standings, which is necessary to be guaranteed a starting spot in each race.
Several days ago rumor had it the #01 team would be shut down if sponsorship could not be found. DEI released a statement to rebuff that story.
It could be that the only constant for DEI in 2009 will be Paul Menard driving the #15 car sponsored by his family’s home improvement chain.
If the rumors are indeed true, the good ship DEI is taking on water and more people are looking for the quickest way off the boat rather than looking to help bail the water. There does not seem to be any trouble getting people to leave this sinking ship.
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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