The Frontstretch: Full Throttle: Is D.E.I. Spreading Itself Too Thin? by Mike Neff -- Monday April 30, 2007

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Full Throttle: Is D.E.I. Spreading Itself Too Thin?

Mike Neff · Monday April 30, 2007


In one of the bigger surprises of the Talladega race weekend, reports surfaced that D.E.I. is once again in discussions with Robert Yates Racing about a possible merger. Trumping the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. contract negotiations as the topic of the day, this possible combination couldn’t bring together two more different types of ownership groups, especially with the longtime connections of each to different manufacturers. No doubt, merging both teams brings up some intriguing possibilities; but to be honest, there are some other things the powers that be at D.E.I. should be focusing on before looking to expand their horizons. In the long run, four car teams seem to be the wave of the future, but an organization has to be a good three car team first before they look to grow bigger. Right now, D.E.I. is far from fitting that description.

Of course, one area in which D.E.I. has succeeded is making money; the organization that was founded by the late, great Dale Earnhardt is one of the top organizations in NASCAR when it comes to revenue. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the most popular driver in the sport by a longshot, and his souvenir sales are the top moneymaker in NASCAR, a financial figure which pumps a large amount of income into the company. The licensing revenue from sales of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. memorabilia is also still among the Top 5 in the sport, even six years after his passing; that added financial boost provides the organization with a consistent influx of cash RYR currently does not receive, let alone several other top notch organizations contained within the sport. By taking on a cash-strapped Robert Yates Racing, D.E.I. would basically be adding a financial burden to their side…one they don’t really need when you look at the grand scheme of things.

In fact, that moneymaking machine established at D.E.I. should make them championship contenders every year, with each of its drivers in position to win multiple races. At this point in time, though, that’s just not happening. Junior is the only driver in the stable that is consistently threatening to win; Martin Truex, Jr. has been improving, but he’s not close to Junior’s level, nor is rookie Paul Menard. In fact, Menard’s equipment has let him down on multiple occasions; the No. 15 currently finds itself outside the Top 35 in owner points and has had to qualify on speed each week. Certainly, when you’ve got a car missing races, you have a company in need of focusing on making all teams competitive; stepping up their own performance should come first before they look towards any type of expansion to solve their problems.

There’s also the small matter of the ongoing contract negotiations with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., an issue which still needs to be the number one focus of the company. Without Junior, the company is looking at a catastrophic loss of capital that could cripple the organization for years to come. Those negotiations have been diagnosed for weeks, and it’s to the point no one knows for sure what is going on except for the parties involved; but whether Junior is truly prepared to lead the organization or not, keeping him in-house is simply the only option that the company can consider. He is too important from both a revenue and popularity standpoint for D.E.I. to let him walk out the door; any merger turns meaningless without his presence to lead the way.

Even with the possible benefits a merger with a team like Robert Yates could provide, the positives come packaged with a 12-pack full of question marks. For example, while D.E.I.'s engine program could use a man like Doug Yates to reduce things like parts failures, D.E.I.‘s engines are already some of the best in the sport to begin with when they last a full 500 miles. Who knows how much of Yates’ genius would come with him to D.E.I.; he’d be dealing with a completely different power plant in Chevrolet. The intricacies of milking one and two extra horsepower out of an engine are the stuff that rocket scientists sit around and talk about at lunch, and it’s taken years for Yates to develop that knowledge with Ford. Honestly, getting the D.E.I. teams to run better with the equipment currently on hand is far more important that reworking the engine program with a new head.

The driver pool at D.E.I. is also not ready to put a fourth car on the track at this time, and Yates doesn’t offer many promising options in that department. Ricky Rudd is merely filling a seat and doesn't seem like he is ready to be competitive again; by the time the merger would occur in ’08, he’ll likely re-retire. That leaves David Gilliland, who has shown some flashes of brilliance but is still ultimately a very raw and unproven talent that will tear up a lot of equipment before he really starts paying dividends. Honestly, Gilliland should have spent another year or two in the Busch Series before moving up in the first place. Since D.E.I. does not have a full-time Busch effort right now, they really don’t have a driver waiting in the wings from their side; Shane Huffman of Junior’s Busch Series team comes closest, but no wins in Busch combined with plenty of inexperience makes him clearly not ready for Cup competition. So, a lack of options internally means D.E.I. needs time to develop a driver with their own equipment, and as we all know, that can take several seasons to do.

Of course, there’s a remote possibility that D.E.I. might utilize a merger to switch to Ford after this season, as their contract with General Motors runs out after 2007. Although Junior and D.E.I. have been loyal to a fault to Chevrolet since the organization was founded, today’s sport is about business above all else, and any other manufacturer would love to have D.E.I. cars running their logo. If that were to happen, though, then you’d be looking at the organization learning how to field a brand new style of car; it’d be a much tougher transition than if Yates simply switched to Chevrolet. Granted, Yates would be able to provide proven power plants immediately in a Ford scenario, but learning a new body style (See: front nose) is a major undertaking for any organization, and the new ownership group may not be organized enough to make the transition.

All this info comes with a bottom line : D.E.I. is not competitive right now outside of the No. 8 team. Once all three D.E.I. cars are under the same roof and begin to run competitively for wins on a weekly basis, then and only then should the organization look to expand. Trying to go to four cars now, reorganizing the engine department in the process around men who've been building Fords for years, is simply stretching their resources far to thin to be successful. Teresa Earnhardt needs to get Junior under contract, get the teams running like they should, and then start looking at expanding…not before. Otherwise, should she give Junior the majority ownership he craves, she’ll be naming him captain of what would ultimately become a sinking ship.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
NASCAR Mailbox: A ‘Normal’ Saturday And A Valuable Lesson
Beyond the Cockpit: Tony ‘The Sarge’ Schumacher
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The Frontstretch Five: Pleasant Surprises of 2014 So Far
IndyCar Driver Profile: Takuma Sato
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05/01/2007 07:00 AM

All your points are very valid. One point not being mentioned yet is the possible switch to another car make and what would happen to Jr.‘s fan base – they would drop him (me included) like he has a disease. We are loyal Chevy fans. There would be a lot of No. 8 stuff for sale on Ebay, CHEAP!

05/01/2007 07:15 AM

100% Agreement with KW. Fans are loyal to manufacturer first and then to the driver they like. I like Matt Kenseth but if a Chevy can beat a Ford then I will root for the Chevy, even if it is Jeff! I never really rooted for Mark Martin, great driver, but now I will root for him anytime. Not all fans will turn, but when I buy souveniors IT WILL HAVE A BOW TIE ON IT!

P.S. Your time stamp is 1 hr. off!

05/01/2007 07:19 AM

Teresa Earnhardt needs to get Junior under contract, get the teams running like they should, and then start looking at expanding…not before. Otherwise, should she give Junior the majority ownership he craves, she’ll be naming him captain of what would ultimately become a sinking ship.

You sure are correct in the above statement…Jr knows DEI is not competive like they were when his Dad was running the show, Jr sees DEI wasting away to the point that there will be no DEI in the future. Not only that but what would become of DEI should Teresa remarry? What input would all of Dale’s children have? I really feel Jr should have 51 percent to protect his brother and sisters intrest in what there father started, Dale always said he started DEI for his kids. Teresa needs to remember she married into the Earnhardt name…but the kids are Earnhardt’s by blood, and DEI is their birthright.

Marty C
05/01/2007 07:56 AM

One of your comments is irrelevant if the merger resulted in switching to FORD, that being “Granted, Yates would be able to provide proven power plants immediately in a Ford scenario, but learning a new body style (See: front nose) is a major undertaking for any organization, and the new ownership group may not be organized enough to make the transition.” Since in all likelihood they will be running the COT in all races next year, the only difference between a Ford or Chevy body will be the decals, that shouldn’t be a consideration. Personally, I’d welcome the change to FORD. There are too many CHEVY teams out there now. It’s becoming boring. In fact, I’d love to see PONTIAC, MERCURY, and CHRYSLER get back into NASCAR. NASCAR says they are allowing Toyota in because they want the races to reflect what’s actually out on the highway. Seems to me I still see these brands out there and it would sure add interest to the races.

Darren Donahoe
05/01/2007 09:21 AM

it is amazing to me that a driver who has proven nothing but being an “okay” driver at best is the subject of so many articles wondering where he could go. yes, todays nascar is about more than winning races. But, come on. if he’s not winning, then he’s…....wait for it…...riding the name. Bash me all you want. You’re remembered by how many races you’ve won. Not how many commercials you’ve made. His daddy didn’t have 10 commercials on during every race. He won races.

05/01/2007 10:30 AM

Seems to me like Thresa is trying to drive Dale JR away.

Chris R
05/01/2007 11:00 AM

I honestly can’t see Dale Jr staying with DEI if there is the potential that the company may switch manufacturers. He seems very loyal to Chevy. I hate to say it, but it might be for the best of Dale Jr did leave DEI. The 3 car is waiting for him at RCR if he wants to take the wheel, and JR Motorsports could set up a cup program and offer that ride to Truex Jr when his contract is up at DEI. I would imagine that many people now working at DEI might decide to move over to JR Motorsports as well. This would put DEI on the ropes so to speak, but nothing would stop Dale Jr and his Brother and Sisters from coming in and buying up what’s left of it at a more realistic price. If Theresa doesn’t want to turn the company over to them as was intended when the Sr Dale started, then perhaps Dales kids need to do something like this in order to secure what should rightfully be theirs.

05/01/2007 03:36 PM

I cannot imagine any true Junior fan not remaining a fan if he ended up driving a Ford. I’m a Junior fan, always have been and always will be. I don’t care what he drives or who he drives for, I’ll be there cheering him on.

However, Junior has always stated that he’s a Chevy guy. I can only see DEI switching to Fords should they not resign Junior.

Junior is one of the pure talents on the track. I’m sad to see him perform well in crap equipment when he could shine in great equipment. I vote for Gibbs if he can’t get the majority at DEI.

john wyckoff
05/01/2007 07:00 PM

Once again Teresa looking at something when her own house still needs to be put in order. This type of concentration on other business than focusing on winning a championship is the reason why DEI in a bit of turmoil of sorts. Other writers and fans have said how she has built the organization but would DEI have won any Busch championships if Dale Jr wasn’t the driver? It’s difficult to say but the front office needs to to take care of the contract negotiations with Dale JR before they even take on the merger with Yates.It’s my suspicion that if they let Dale walk there will be a lot of other good people going with him.

05/01/2007 07:47 PM

Yeah I think everyone needs to wait and see what is REALLY going to happen. Doug Yates “HORESPOWER” it was good in the 90“s. And if JR. goes to RCR he’s going to take his team now so it’s the same ol team with a different owner, and do you really think the RCR guys Harvick,Burton,and Bowyer want to take a back seat to someone else? Yeah I don’t think so. Maybe DEI isn’t that bad they want more support and he doesn’t have a golden horseshoe up his butt like some guys.(24)(48)

05/04/2007 05:01 PM

Dale jr is a better racer than he gets credit for just cause he’s an earnhardt doesn’t mean he got it handed to him…its true he was around it and got more oprtnuities sure but he earned every thing….theres a Trailer full of drivers that have never won a bush championship heck never even raced competitively in bush..what happened to the days when ya had to prove yourself jr HAS! DEI leadership is all about the bejamins they don’t care about winning races its evident before sr died they were excelling wining…if jr went to RCR he would win and win alot why because childress is about winning not about selling diecast!
Theresa has turned her shop over to non nascar businessmen and it shows jr should run not walk to RCR or Gibbs…..Dale gets his fierce loyalty to GM from his daddy..he will turn over and may just get up and walk to DEI and slap teresa if she goes to anyother MFG....he was 100% GM loyal no matter what it didn’t matter if they didn’t send any cash his way he would have still only had chevys in his’s a fact!
As for jr racing the number 3 GM goodwrench chev I can think of no ther driver i would ever want to sse in there then him…..


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