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NASCAR Notebook: DEI takes another hit

by David Grayson
Wednesday, October 01, 2008

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DEI'S STATUS TAKES YET ANOTHER HIT.

Without Dale Jr., the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s wife, Theresa Earnhardt, is running DEI into the ground
There's no question about it, Dale Earnhardt Inc-DEI has endured a lot of frustrations in recent months and the latest problem comes with the recent announcement that driver Paul Menard is leaving and will sign on with Yates Racing in 2009. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the mega million dollar primary sponsorship, for the DEI #15 Chevrolet, is going with the driver. That of course would be the family owned business Menard's Home Improvement Stores.

At this writing the status of DEI seems to be as follows:

#1: driver Martin Truex Jr and the Bass Pro Shops primary sponsorship is the currently flagship for the organization. But the driver and sponsor's contract ends after 2009 season and that means renegotiations sometime next summer. For that to have a happy ending this team is going to have to show a significant increase in consistency if they want to keep their driver and sponsor.

#8: drivers Mark Martin and Aric Almirola have been sharing this ride with primary sponsorship from the U.S. Army but all of that is undergoing a change for the worse. Martin is leaving to join Hendrick Motor Sports next year, Almirola will take over the ride full time in 2009 and the Army has clearly indicated that it doesn't want anything to do with this scenario. The Army will be placing its sponsorship money with Stewart Haas Racing, and driver Ryan Newman, next year. A formal announcement, and car unveiling, is expected October 10th at the Lowes Motor Speedway. The Army has also reportedly said that it does wish to conduct anymore negotiations with DEI in the future.

#15: with the recent announcement regarding Paul Menard's departure this ride will need a driver and a sponsor. It's very likely that driver resumes are already being faxed to DEI but finding a sponsor to campaign the car in 2009 is going to be difficult.

#01: all season long the commercial endorsements on the fender of this Chevrolet, driven by Regan Smith, hasn't generated enough revenue to even qualify it for part time sponsorship. There is a lot of speculation that DEI intends to use the ownership of the #01 as a major bargaining chip to entice a potential investor. It's also widely believed that Smith will not be returning to drive the car next year.

In the midst of all this a lot of fingers are pointing at Teresa Earnhardt, company owner, and Max Siegel, President of DEI Global Operations. Neither one seems to have anything to say except for the occasional "no comment."

DISCORD IN THE PETTY FAMILY?

It's beginning to look and sound like it.  Garage rumors are saying that last Sunday's race at the Kansas Speedway may have been the last one for Kyle Petty with the famed racing team that his Grandfather started back in 1949. This controversy has been an on and off subject since late spring right after Petty Enterprises sold the majority ownership of the team to Boston Ventures. Since that time Kyle Petty's traditional #45 Dodge has seen frequent driver substitutions in addition to the traditional six weeks off Petty takes to be a commentator for the TNT Network. In fact, former NASCAR champion Terry Labonte will be in the car for this Sunday's race at Talladega.

All this while everyone from Petty Enterprises, including Kyle, has had little or nothing to say about any reports of discord within the operation. But this week a giant cat was let out of the bag and the source was rather surprising: it was Kyle's wife Patti Petty who spoke freely about her husband's status with the family owned team to a reporter from the "Winston Salem, (North Carolina) Journal."

In a series of stunning statements Patti Petty said "they haven't wanted Kyle Petty in that car for the past three years. They want a younger driver-someone 30 or even 20 years old . But Wells Fargo, our sponsor, says they are going to stay with Kyle with whatever he does. I wish Chip Ganassi, (owner of Target Chip Ganassi Racing who currently has a vacant ride), would take a look at Kyle. We have a 12 race sponsorship deal lined up for next year that would be a perfect part time schedule for Kyle and he could help mentor a young, up and coming, Ganassi driver. They, (Petty Enterprises), before the Watkins Glen race, when he was standing there in his driver's suit, told him  that they didn't want him in the car." Patti Petty also said that her husband's next scheduled appearance in his #45 Dodge was planned for the November Sprint Cup race in Phoenix and added "right now even that is iffy."

Kyle Petty has been rather careful about his comments on this situation but, in the past, has said that he felt like he was not a major contributor to the ongoing performance problems with Petty Enterprises. This is validated by the 2008 stats compiled by all of the NASCAR  teams under contract with Dodge Motor Sports. None of these teams appear to be a picture of consistency. Petty has also said in the past that he's struggling with this situation but insists that he wants to remain at the NASCAR Sprint Cup level for the duration of his career even if it means driving for another team.

Current garage rumors state that Petty Enterprises has been having conversations with drivers A J Allmendinger and Michael McDowell about joining them as primary driver Bobby Labonte's team mate. Allmendinger was recently released from the Red Bull Toyota team. McDowell, who drives a Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, is likely going to become available due to projected sponsor problems with his current ride. Also waiting in the wings at Petty Enterprises is their development driver Chad McCumbee.

When the Pettys announced their merger with Boston Ventures earlier this year there was some dialogue that said they were considering adding a third team. Here's hoping they will consider adding a third part time team for Kyle Petty so he can finish his career with his family owned organization the way it should be. His status as an active driver probably will not last much longer and he already has a promising career waiting for him as a racing commentator on television. He also still has a lot to offer Petty Enterprises following his driver retirement. He was always well known as a good business administrator for the organization and his humanitarian efforts, especially with the Victory Junction Gang Camp, is a virtual goldmine in public relations for the organization.

SOME NEWS FOR YOU MICHAEL WALTRIP FANS AND IT'S ALL GOOD.

Last week we reported rumors of a possible merger between Michael Waltrip Racing-MWR and JTG/Daughetry Racing that would place Australian driver Marcus Ambrose under the MWR banner and in a Toyota Camry. Last Wednesday's announcement turned out to be a planned alliance and not an official merger. The plans calls for JTG/Daughetry to switch to Toyota and the operation will be housed at MWR but everyone involved insists it is not a full fledged merger. Little Debbie Snacks and Clorox will be the primary sponsors for Ambrose's 2009 Cup ride.

There's also good news for Michael Waltrip from the recent announcement that said famed NASCAR crew chief Robert "Booty" Barker will be taking over that position for his #55 Napa Toyota in 2009. Barker replaces long time MWR employee Bobby Kennedy who was promoted to an undisclosed upper management position.

NASCAR veteran Kenny Wallace will be taking over Michael McDowell's #00 MWR Toyota for this Sunday's race at Talladega. The team has currently slipped out of the top 35 in owner's and it's expected that his qualifying expertise will help the team make the race.

SPEAKING OF KENNY WALLACE.

In a recent column written for the Speed Channel's website Wallace stated that his older brother Rusty might actually be thinking about coming out of retirement and racing next year for Dale Earnhardt Inc. In a prepared statement Rusty Wallace said that he has "long term commitments with the ABC and ESPN Networks and he's very happy with what he's doing right now. I truly love my brother and his enthusiasm but there's simply no truth to any of this."

BEST LINE WE'VE HEARD ALL WEEK.

That honor goes to Patrick Carpentier, driver of the #10 Gillette Evernham Motor Sports Dodge. Carpentier is currently on the outside looking in at GEM and says they are trying to land a sponsor which would guarantee him a ride next year. He's also considering an offer from a NASCAR Nationwide Series team. When asked if he had any advice for future open wheel drivers like himself who may be considering making the leap to NASCAR racing he laughed and said "tell them to check their egos at the door."

TALLADEGA TID BITS.

NASCAR's fourth race in their Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship will be held this Sunday at the massive Talladega Speedway the home of the so called "big one." Many of the teams involved in the 12 man Chase consider this race to be a possible wild card event because if the expected big one, which is a wreck involving ten or more cars, comes it could drastically change the current picture of the Chase standings. Here's some Talladega tidbits:

The Amp Energy 500 is going to be 188 very intense laps on the speedway's massive 2.66 mile quad oval that has 33 degrees of banking in the turns.
The race can be seen on ABC Sports beginning at 2pm eastern/11 am pacific.
The defending race champion, from October of last year, is Jeff Gordon. Kyle Busch won the spring race this past April.

This week's odds on favorites, again provided by the World Sports Exchange-WSE, states that drivers Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kyle Busch are 6 to 1 favorites to win the Amp Energy 500. Of Course Earnhardt Jr has an extra incentive because his primary car sponsor is also the race sponsor. Other race favorites include Jimmie Johnson-8 to 1, Denny Hamlin-12 to 1 and Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick at rated at 15 to 1 odds.

This week's WSE odds on the Chase For The Championship has Jimmie Johnson on top at 3 to 2 followed by Carl Edwards-8 to 5 and Greg Biffle-11 to 4, with Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton rated at 25 to 1 odds. The remainder of the Chase line lists Dale Earnhardt Jr and Clint Bowyer-40 to 1, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth-50 to 1 while Joe Gibbs Racing team mates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin are rated at 75 to 1.

Again we are obligated to join NASCAR in reminding you that betting on a stock car race, especially a Talladega event, is not that great of an idea but if you win some money from your favorite driver then allow us to be the first to say congratulations.

LAST BUT NEVER LEAST.

"Humpy" Wheeler is truly a NASCAR treasure. For decades Wheeler operated the Lowes Motor Speedway with a promotional flair that would even make P T Barnum smile. When it comes to NASCAR ante dotes Wheeler is also a living story book. During a recent interview on the Speed Channel, Wheeler was asked why there were so many big ones during a Talladega race.

Wheeler referred to two pieces of Native American folk lore and pointed out that when General, and later President, Andrew Johnson fought the Alabama Indians and drove them away from their lands a tribal medicine man put a curse on the land before he left. It was the same piece of property occupied by the Talladega Speedway. Wheeler also pointed out the piece of folk lore that says the track is sitting on an ancient Indian burial ground and that's why there's so much turbulence during a Talladega race.

But the best ante dote of all involved the late Bobby Isaacs a renowned NASCAR driver during the late sixties to middle seventies. Wheeler said that Isaacs had a healthy lead during a Talladega race and was on his way to victory lane when all of a sudden he slowed, entered pit road and drove his car to the garage area. When a NASCAR official asked what the problem was Isaacs reportedly said "a voice told me to get off of the track." When asked to repeat that Isaacs again replied "the voice of God just told me to get off of the track." Wheeler concluded the story by pointing out that it was the last time Bobby Isaacs ever competed in a NASCAR Winston Cup race.

Ante dotes like these are just priceless. However there is a way to put a price tag on them. Someone should entice Wheeler to write a series of books on all of the NASCAR stories that he's collected over the years.

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