Voices From The Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Wednesday May 9, 2007
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Today at 11:00 A.M. (EST), a press conference will be held at the newly unveiled headquarters of JR Motorsports. What is revealed at this press conference may very well be the biggest news to rock the world of NASCAR since that tragic February Sunday in 2001. While details were changing hourly at press time, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is expected to announce that he and Martin Truex, Jr. will be leaving D.E.I. and racing in the Cup Series under Lil E's very own banner of JR Motorsports in 2008.
If this is, in fact, the nature of the announcement, it potentially answers a multitude of questions that have been plaguing me ever since all this infernal contract negotiation turned R.Y.R./D.E.I. merger crap began many months ago. Since I am actually writing this column the night before you are actually reading it, we will all know the TRUE answers at the same time. However, in the interest of anxiety and suspense, I will reveal my questions and how I think they will be answered, just for all of you.
I honestly could never figure out what Teresa Earnhardt had to gain by not giving in outright to Junior's demand of controlling interest in D.E.I. I mean, let's be honest here. Dale Jr. IS D.E.I. Without Dale, D.E.I. is just a shell of a company. As has been said before, Teresa could own 49 percent of SOMETHING or 100 percent of NOTHING.
Now, Teresa is already insanely rich and will continue to be for the rest of her life. Why not just give the kids (â€˜step,' no less) what was rightfully built for them in the first place and move on? The answer, I think, is mainly pride. It appears to the outside world that Teresa bristles at the idea of Junior being the boss. Perhaps the ace up her sleeve is Robert Yates Racing to show that she can survive perfectly fine without Junior’s presence. (Which brings up a whole â€˜nother set of questions in the first place!)
Well, why begin merger negotiations with another, once powerful race team, to create one big team, when you may lose controlling interest in your half in the first place? Did anyone think for one minute that Junior would be given controlling interest of a merged D.E.I./R.Y.R. mega-team? My guess is that Theresa had no intention whatsoever of letting go.
The funny thing is that despite what I wrote in yesterday's Top Ten that R.Y.D.E.R. would be the new team name, probably everyone just assumed it was D.E.I. that was saving R.Y.R., when in reality, with Junior’s departure, it will be R.Y.R. that is saving what is left of D.E.I.! Who knew that the top billing I gave R.Y.R. in the team name would be so much closer to reality!?
The D.E.I./R.Y.R. merger talks also brought up the question of what make of car the team will have. If Yates stayed with Ford and D.E.I. with Chevy, how would that work with two rival manufactures supporting one team? Perhaps there were clues to how this whole saga was shaping up that no one really saw these last few days and weeks.
"Ford is fully committed to Robert Yates Racing for the long-term, and they have assured us that are similarly committed to Ford," said Kevin Kennedy, Ford Racing Technology Communications Manager earlier this month. "Robert and Doug have been in contact with Ford about the nature of the discussions. We have a valued partnership with them, and they are keeping us informed of those discussions like a true partner would. We fully expect they will remain with Ford for many, many years."
"We definitely have been talking with D.E.I. Truthfully, we've been having informal talks with them for several years," continued Kennedy. "We have not yet made a formal offer to them, but we know that their GM contract is up at the end of the year. We had some discussions with them, and we've made it clear that we'd love to have them in our program."
On the other side of the coin, when asked last Friday about the possibility of him driving a Ford in the future, Junior just laughed. “We’ll be driving Chevys, I’ll promise you that!” he said unequivocally.
To be fair, some of my media colleagues have been beginning to surmise these last couple of days that if, in fact, a D.E.I./R.Y.R. merger is almost certainly a done deal, and Junior is insisting he will be driving a Chevy, then logically Junior would not be part of those talks. However, although they may have been on the right track, most of them pegged Junior as going to either Richard Childress Racing or, more recently, Hendrick Motorsports. Dale's own JR Motorsports (JRM) wasn't even a blip on the radar!
The simple fact that JRM was grossly over looked by the media (and perhaps Teresa as well) as one possible scenario just may prove that these stepkids (Dale and sister Kelley) are more savvy then they let on. JRM was their trump card, and they played it well. That’s especially when you consider that just one month ago, at an Open House for the new JRM facility, any talk of Cup racing was put down rather quickly.
“We’re definitely not positioning JR Motorsports for Cup racing,” Kelley Earnhardt Elledge said at the time. “We can’t handle that. What we are positioning ourselves, from a JR Motorsports perspective, is not the motorsports end, but the business end – hiring key licensing, hiring our branding executives.”
“Kelley probably wouldn’t let me if I wanted,” said Dale Jr. when asked about driving a Cup car for JRM. "No way!" said his sister in response. (Kelley, in case you didn't know, handles all of Jr.'s business affairs).
If a D.E.I./R.Y.R. merger was Theresa's trump card to Jr.'s attempt at controlling interest, the JRM card played by the kids beats it hands down. With one full swoop, it turns the "merger" into more of an "acquisition" of D.E.I. by Robert Yates Racing and Ford! Who'd have thunk it?!
But wait a minute, folks! Even as I write all this, and even though I am about to start banging my head on my desk thinking of all the possible ways this could turn out, one bone-chilling thought just popped into my mind; Remember that old commercial where Jr. announced that they were changing the number on his car?
Maybe he's just funnin' with us!
Stay off the wall, (but tune into Speed at 11!)
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