It seem that it just keeps getting harder and harder for fans of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. to find something to hold on to as the series continues to move forward without one of its greatest drivers. Of course, he will always have a presence in the sport but many of the things that still had his thumbprint on them seem to be fading away with each passing season.
Before his death in 2001, Dale Sr. along with his wife, Teresa, had put together one of the premier racing operations in the sport in Dale Earnhardt Inc. The multi-car operation was built around the cornerstone #8 team of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had become the most popular driver in the sport and attracted sponsors like few other drivers. During his first five full-time years with DEI from 2000 through 2004, he visited victory lane a total of 15 times but the next three years he only had two wins.
Dale Jr. knew not only his team but also the entire organization had problems and he felt the only way to really address those issues was to buy into DEI. Teresa refused to sell any portion of DEI to Dale Jr. and as we all know, Jr. packed up his driving gear and moved over to Hendrick Motorsports for the 2008 season.
DEI had not only lost its star power when Dale Jr. left, it also lost its ability to attract sponsors. Suddenly, DEI was struggling both on the track and in its efforts to fund its race teams, as would-be sponsors were not lining up to support its effor ts w ithout Jr.’s star po wer.
Chip Ganassi Racing was experiencing the same problems as DEI last season, and the two merged together to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Both teams had fielded three cars last season but the sagging economy forced the newly-formed operation to cut back on the number of teams to three for this season.
That number has now been cut back a third as Earnhardt Ganassi announced that the #8 team driven by Aric Almirola has been shut down until a sponsor could be found. That is definitely a big blow to Dale Sr. fans as the #8 was not only Dale Jr.’s number but was also the number of Ralph Earnhardt, Dale Sr .’s fa ther.
Earnhardt Ganassi now fields two teams for Martin Truex Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya but apparently Truex’s tenure with the operation may be short term as there has been a report that he, along with his sponsor Bass Pro Shops, may be leaving. It has not been confirmed, but the report says Truex has a clause in his contract that would free both him and Bass Pro Shops from Earnhardt Ganassi if he doesn’t have at least two fulltime teammates.
Sponsorship problems are not just the sole property of Earnhardt Ganassi. Richard Petty Motorsports is struggling to keep one of its four race teams on the track. One of the best stories of the season so far has been the success of Petty’s #44 A.J. Allmendinger team. This team had to race its way into the first five races of the season but now finds itself securely locked into the starting field each week as it sits in the 20th position in the point standings.
Even though Petty and Allmendinger have done a terrific job on the track this season, they still find themselves having to hustle to get enough sponsorship to fill out the schedule. They just picked up sponsorship for six more races that will now carry the team through the Sept. 12 race at Richmond. That’s not bad for a team that started the season expecting to only race the first five events due to its lack of those precious sponsorship dollars.
Allmendinger now knows that he will race at least the first 26 races of the season, but apparently he doesn’t really know just how he will get paid for his efforts. He says he and Petty have been creative about his pay but he is not putting his winnings back into the team. If he can continue to run as strong as he has during the first seven races of the season, those paydays should become better.
Pitt Pass: For those of you who think that the hard-driven Tony Stewart that you see on Sunday is the real Tony Stewart, I want to pass this on. Stewart is paying Morgan Shepherd’s Goodyear tire bill for the Nationwide Series for the entire season. That’s a nice gesture!
Race Preview — Event: Subway Fresh Fit 500. Track: Phoenix International Raceway (1-mile oval, 11 degrees in 1 & 2, 9 in turns 3 & 4). Date: April 18, 8:30 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Jimmie Johnson.