Tearing Apart the Trucks · Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday March 31, 2011
One of the many rookies in this year’s substantial rookie class is fourth-generation driver Jeffrey Earnhardt. After running a handful of races last season with Rick Ware Racing, the 21-year-old signed on to run the full 2011 schedule.
But suddenly the decent start—a seventh-place finish at Daytona and a top 10 spot in the standings—had come to a grinding halt on Tuesday…or so it seemed.
“We have been informed by several owners that our driver (Jeffrey Earnhardt) and his management company (Jeffrey Earnhardt, Inc.) has been shopping around for another team, alluding sponsorship was coming with them,” team owner Rick Ware said in a release on Tuesday.
“It is pretty amazing the amount of calls we have received from owners about this situation, asking us what is going on and their concerns that a young driver and his management company are aggressively looking for another team with less to offer than the position they are currently in.”
The release from the team included accusations of a breach of contract in shopping around not only the driver, but also a sponsor that has been with the team since 2008.
“To shop around the sponsor that has been with our organization since the fall of 2008 and not to mention so early into his career can only end badly,” Ware said. “To think that Jeffrey and Jeffrey Earnhardt, Inc. would try to leave and take my sponsor is more than just a legal issue, it’s a disappointment that I have not felt in this sport before.”
But Earnhardt had a different view of the situation.
“To read that release was very upsetting and I’m disappointed to hear the inflammatory and disparaging statements personally made by Rick Ware about me and my company,” Earnhardt said through his management company. “The facts support that we did reach out to other race teams after the sponsor notified Rick Ware and my group that they were pursuing alternative marketing venues and after we were contacted by Rick Ware informing us that he would be unable to support me without the sponsor’s funding.”
“This past Sunday, Rick advised us that he would only race me in Martinsville providing we signed a release to allow him out of his contract with JEI,” Earnhardt continued. “That release never arrived and we notified him in writing on Monday that we expected to drive the No. 1 truck in Martinsville, in accordance with our contract.”
That all led me wonder which side of the story to believe. On one side you’ve got a team owner claiming breach of contract, but on the other side you have a driver who admits he was shopping around but as a result of a statement from Rick Ware. Huh?
But it didn’t stop there. Wednesday afternoon, another release came out from RWR stating the two parties had mended fences and Earnhardt would in fact be in the No. 1 Fuel Doctor truck this weekend at Martinsville.
So why the change of heart in the overnight hours? According to Ware, it’s simply about racing.
“We just want to race, and sometimes the issues of business just seem to make us lose focus on why we are here,” Ware stated on Wednesday.
But what exactly does all of this mean?
Managing Editor Tom Bowles suggested in yesterday’s Did You Notice that it all may be just a public relations ploy, and that may be true since we’re talking about the two now. But I have to wonder if there’s more to this situation than either party is willing to reveal right now.
It’s more likely that Rick Ware Racing spoke out and made statements before fully discussing the situation with Earnhardt. Assuming both parties have told the truth in their public statements, it seems both have breached their contracts. However, it’s hard to expect a driver who is looking at the possibility of being unemployed to not shop around for another team to join. After all, it comes down to whether this young career continues to blossom or falls short simply because a sponsor planned to walk away.
The funny thing is both parties could have simply resolved this behind the scenes and not brought anyone into the mix. Had Earnhardt and his management company made it clear they would search for other options in case RWR had to release him, Ware would have been informed of where the two stand. On the other hand, RWR could have gone straight to Earnhardt when the calls started coming in about him shopping around.
Sadly, in this situation there are no clear winners and losers.
Ultimately, Earnhardt will pilot the No. 1 this weekend at Martinsville, but I have to wonder if there’s any trust between Earnhardt, his management group and RWR at this point. Now there will be the constant wonder of how both parties will handle any future problems between them. Will they simply run and tattle or will they sit down and handle it like men?
Only time will tell, but for now…on to Martinsville.
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