Vito Pugliese · Thursday April 9, 2009
Editor’s Note: This column appears in our Frontstretch Newsletter today.
Word has come down from on high at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing that the No. 8 Chevrolet now piloted by Aric Almirola – and formerly by some guy with a goatee and another one with a buzz cut – will be parked until adequate sponsorship can be found.
Is this what NASCAR’s come to?
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Petty Enterprises is no more, the Wood Brothers show up to about as many races as David Pearson nowadays, and Kyle Petty has been relegated to an as yet unconfirmed stint in the Grand Am Series… now one of the most iconic numbers in NASCAR is being shelved for lack of sponsorship. It wasn’t so long ago that this No. 8 team was contending for championships and winning races on a regular basis, becoming essentially the flagship car of NASCAR itself. But after stumbling through a miserable start, they claim there’s no choice now but to submit to a different type of “flag” — the white flag of surrender.
Why has it been so hard for a team whose name is synonymous with the sport itself to struggle to secure funding?
Even last year, the No. 8 very well should have won the Spring race at Phoenix, and was in position to win at Richmond just two events later. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing currently has a personable and competent driver who lacks only seat time in Aric Almirola; but apparently, there is just no funding to be found for what had been the most recognizable race car in all of motorsports.
What gives? Yeah, I know… “It’s the economy…”
Well, enough is enough. I am tired of hearing that same sorry-assed excuse every time a decent race team gets shelved, while mediocre-at-best teams continue to be fully funded and continue on indefinitely. It’s the same unexplainable reason that good TV shows get the plug pulled on them – The Dukes of Hazzard, CHiPs, and Sledgehammer – but stupid ones like The Surreal Life, Rock of Love, and The King of Queens (I’m sorry if you like this show, but it sucks, and Kevin James is not even a poor man’s Chris Farley) are allowed to broadcast on a seemingly constant loop.
It’s just not right.
Also affected by this mess are the estimated 50 employees of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing who have been released due to these sponsorship woes. It was also rumored recently that Almirola’s teammate, Martin Truex, Jr. and sponsor Bass Pro Shops might be on the way out as well. That report was recently denied by EGR President Steve Lauletta, refuting speculation that Bass Pro Shops has an out clause based on performance standards — along with a stipulation that Truex must have at least two teammates. While his explanation was done without reservation, if you look at how things have progressed for this bunch the last few years, the future doesn’t exactly look promising — no matter what has been rebuffed in the public eye.
Let’s just consider the missteps of the last two years at DEI:
- Personal ugly rift turned public between former driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and owner (and stepmother) Teresa Earnhardt
- Earnhardt, Jr. denied ownership role in company his father created for him and his siblings
- Departure of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
- Departure of Tony Eury, Sr.
- Departure of Tony Eury, Jr.
- Departure of Mark Martin after one season in No. 8 Chevrolet
- Loss of U.S. Army Sponsorship inherited from former Ginn Racing team
- Loss of Rookie of the Year Regan Smith
- Loss of Paul Menard and Menards sponsorship
- Resignation of President of Global Operations, Max Siegel
Is there anything that the former Dale Earnhardt Incorporated has done right lately?
What’s more, the move to shut the No. 8 team down comes one week before heading to a track where a year ago, they would have won in this very same car had they not made an unnecessary pit stop for fuel with five laps left. With that type of history on your side, why not hang around for just one more week and try to get a good run in so you could possibly secure additional sponsorship? Of all the times EGR should be showing up to the track with this car, it should be now … and they aren’t.
General George S. Patton once said that one must always accept a challenge so that they can feel the exhilaration of victory. Granted, he was talking about shooting Nazis with M1 Garands and flamethrowers while running over them with tanks… but you get the gist of it. And if there is anything that is more shameful than not showing up to a fight, it’s showing up to a fight that you stand a pretty good chance at winning — or at least not getting beat up too badly. There are number of things that are sad, troubling, and disappointing regarding this whole situation. It harkens back to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. being treated as little more than just another journeyman driver two years ago, rather than the son of the man whose name is on the door. Moreover, this is far from a fitting tribute to the Dale Earnhardt, Sr. himself, the man who made the company possible in the first place. Do you really think The Intimidator would bare his throat, stay home, and keep the car on the trailer if he thought they stood a chance at running well?
As if it isn’t bad enough that General Motors is reportedly readying things to file for bankruptcy if need be, even their commercials airing now state that what America (and General Motors) needs is a comeback. Well, here is the perfect opportunity for EGR and what used to be the flagship of DEI to stage a comeback… and they are electing not to race. Keep in mind this is the same organization that not too many races ago nearly won (and as far as I am concerned, DID win) at Talladega with an unsponsored car and a rookie driver, Regan Smith. Now, they aren’t going to show up to a track with the same car that should have won last year?
Once again, perhaps the biggest loser in all of this next to Almirola are the nearly 50 employees tied to the No. 8 car that have been laid off on Easter weekend, making for far less than a Good Friday. And as they leave the building, Tony Stewart’s stinging prophesy of a year ago seems more real than ever before. DEI (now EGR) has now devolved into little more than a museum and T-Shirt store.
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