By admin | April 12, 2009
By Richard Allen
Depending on the view point of the reader, the fact that the Earnhardt-Ganassi car #8 will not race in Saturdayâ€™s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway is either saddening, maddening, gratifying or frustrating. However, the fact remains that the car will not compete and this situation could have been avoided.
I do not really intend for this column to delve too deeply into the intentions of the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. for his company, his children or his wife. But, that issue does have to at least be addressed in any column focusing on this issue.
Obviously, there is disagreement on what Earnhardt intended. Teresa Earnhardt, his widow, retained control of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. after her husband was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500.
In the midst of the 2007 NASCAR season a feud that had likely been going on privately for some time became very public. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his sister, Kelley Earnhardt-Elledge, believed their father had intended for at least some share of the company to go to them. Their step-mother disagreed.
As a result, Junior left DEI at the end of 2007 and began driving for Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.
With all that said, the issue goes back to the #8 car. Without Junior in the fold, DEI lost much of its magnetism. The ability of the organization to attract sponsors was greatly diminished.
Perhaps fearing a fan backlash, DEI opted to put part-time driver Mark Martin in the #8 sponsored by the U.S. Army. It may have been thought that there would be very few who would boo the likable Martin and the army during wartime.
However, the move to place Martin in the car only proved to be a temporary bandage on a deep wound. Martin departed at the end of 2008, ironically for Hendrick. The U.S. Army left to join forces with Stewart-Haas Racing and driver Ryan Newman.
Now, Aric Almirola, who shared the ride with Martin in â€˜08, is supposed to be the full time campaigner of the once very popular car. Trouble is, the team has run out of sponsorship and the car has ceased to be a full time ride.
No doubt, if Junior were still driving this car DEI would be fully sponsored, not only for the #8 car, but for any other cars they wished to field. Just an agreement for Junior to appear in a television commercial or wear a patch on his uniform seemed to be enough to land sponsors for other cars and drivers as long as the popular driver raced for his late fatherâ€™s company.
In an attempt to stave off irrelevancy, and possibly even complete elimination, DEI merged with Chip Ganassi Racing during the past off season. The newly formed company had its hands full holding on to driver Martin Truex and his Bass Pro Shops sponsorship but was finally able to re-sign the pair to a one year contract extension.
Rumor has it the Truex situation may not wait until the end of the season to again surface. According to reports, Truex has an out in his contract that states he may become a free agent if he does not have two full time teammates. If the #8 car does not show up in Phoenix, Truex will only have the #42 car of Juan Pablo Montoya as a teammate.
Again, if the popular Junior were still in the fold this would not be an issue.
Ultimately, this situation all boiled down to egos, greed and stubbornness. Again, depending on the point of view of the reader, there are several directions in which the blame can be placed.
The bottom line is that a team once considered to be one of the few elite teams in NASCAR is now on the verge of disappearing into oblivion, and that is a shame no matter what your point of view.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
*For a chuckle, click on the link below to check out my latest installment of the weekly animated short film, â€œRacing Re-Cap: Special Editionâ€. This week, racing reporter Mark Mustang attempts an in depth interview with rookie driver Dusty Davis but finds the driverâ€™s overly scripted answers to be a bit frustrating.
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