The Frontstretch: Vexing Vito: Economy Or No Economy, Parking No. 8 Car For Phoenix Dumbest Thing Ever by Vito Pugliese -- Thursday April 9, 2009

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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.

Despite spins like this one, Almirola had once shown promise in the DEI No. 8 Chevrolet, scoring a top 10 at Bristol in the Spring of 2008 as the highlight of his limited schedule with the team that year.

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.

How foolish.

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?

Absolutely not.

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?

Cowardly.

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.

So sad.

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MJR in Springfield VA
04/09/2009 07:02 AM
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I make no bones about it; I wasn’t an Earnhardt Sr. fan (I thought he was a dirty racer) and I’m not an Earnhardt Jr. fan either (I think he is a mediocre driver at best). Sr. would just as soon knock another driver out of a race and then just smirk about it and call it a “racing deal.” Whereas Jr., albeit a rather all around nice guy, just isn’t all that great behind the wheel even when given the best resources available. What he is though is a hell of a marketeer and a hot commodity in the souvenir business. You know, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if we saw HMS and Jr. make another bid for the #8. Just think how much money they could rake in when Jr. Nation has to retool their race gear…..again.

And I don’t think the #8 car is “the most recognizable race car in all of motorsports.” I can think of a bunch more that the average race fan would recognize long before the #8. The #43, #3, #24, just to name a few.

overa88ed
04/09/2009 09:17 AM
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This is just another meaningless BLAH,BLAH,BLAH JR. article. Jr doesn’t even have the most wins as a driver in a #8 cup series car. GET OVER IT!

usetawuz
04/09/2009 09:49 AM
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it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if we saw HMS and Jr. make another bid for the #8. Just think how much money they could rake in when Jr. Nation has to retool their race gear…..again. bq.

Now, wouldn’t that be funny as h*ll. All of those Jr. fans with their tattoo’s, now changed to 88, having to figure out a way to change them back?

Sean
04/09/2009 09:59 AM
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I’m pretty sure Kyle Petty is racing Grand-Am this year, not ALMS.

I doubt Almirola would have had a good run at Phoenix, compared to Mark Martin, who has always been good at Phoenix.

As for the loss of an iconic car number, eh… I don’t see the big deal about car numbers. People hardly blinked when the #97 went away for Roush shortly after winning a championship. Nobody seemed to care that the Hendrick #25 was shelved so Junior could drive the #88, and that nearly won a title with Tim Richmond too.

midasmicah
04/09/2009 10:15 AM
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I don’t care what number they put on the car, Dale Jr. doesn’t seem to have the fire he once had. Maybe it’s the rock star status he achieved. Something is missing and it’s not just the number 8.

smartracer
04/09/2009 11:38 AM
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Vito…It sounds as if you’ve given quite a bit of thought to this story. Yet, sometimes just thinking is not enough. The problem with your story revolves around numerous things, but I will concentrate on a couple. One, Dale Jr. and DEI. Two, EGR suspending the 8. As for Dale Jr. and DEI. Most fans and media members seem to always leave out a couple of tidbits when discussing the question of Theresa giving Dale Jr. majority ownership in the company that HER husband built. One is that SHE and Dale started DEI with the idea of creating a successful race team. Prior to Dale Jr even having an idea that he was going to be a racer. They started it so that Dale could focus his love for racing somewhere other than the race track. Dale was the owner, as was Theresa. But, on one fateful day, a day when Theresa Earnhardt went to Daytona International Speedway, just as they had many years prior. The husband that she loved didn’t climb out of the car. She went to the race track a wife and came back a widow. She also came back as the OWNER of DEI. Dale Jr. didn’t return as the owner, he was a driver at DEI, under contract to do his duty in the seat of the NO.8 car. Theresa could have sold the company that she and Dale built together (if you know anything, you know that Theresa was the main reason Dale started copywriting and trademarking his images, signatures, etc.). Theresa didn’t sell, she kept the team running for her step-son and the hundreds of employees that worked there. Now, I truly believe that Theresa and Dale Jr., in honor of Dale Sr. should have and could have found a way to make the ownership deal happen. But, they didn’t, and just like a “what if” in racing. There are many “what ifs” in this story.

That leads into my opinion on the No. 8. There are many “what ifs” associated with Almirola. What if Hornish hadn’t wrecked him with 8 laps to go while running 11th at Daytona. What if a radiator hose had not busted in California, running 21st. Vegas, Almirola has freely admitted that he messed up and wrecked on his own while running 13th. Atlanta, finally a decent finish, 21st. Bristol, the cut-off race for top 35. Almirola was caught in between a wreck that involved about 4 other drivers. He then fell out of the top 35. Martinsville, a bend in the brake vents, from contact caused hot air to be blown directly on the right front tire bead. Thus, causing 5 blown right front tires. Finally Texas, the team just didn’t have it. That happens, but when it happens to a team that doesn’t have full sponsorship it makes things difficult. How much do you think it COSTS to send a Sprint Cup Car and all of the crew members to the race track Vigo? Do your know? Do your fans know? If not, you should investigate. The problem with the available sponsorship dollars out there right now is that you run the risk of undervaluing your other current sponsors. If you sell, lets say 10 races for $1mil, that is $100k per race. You need about $200k to get to the race track. Now, lets say that you have another sponsor that is paying $8-$10mil for 10 races. If you are a smart business man for the company paying $8-$10mil, what are you to do? Personally I would say, “hey I want that 10 race $1mil deal that you gave that guy!” You see the decisions being made are not as cut and dry as the media and race fans think they are. The industry as a whole is scaling back, it will take time, but right now there are teams that are taking deals that have been unheard of in NASCAR for the last 10 years! Just two years ago companies were paying, in some cases, $5mil for 3 or 4 races. This is a business for these teams, and if you start going to the race track un-sponored and paying for it out of your own pocket, it becomes nothing more than a HOBBY!!

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
04/09/2009 11:40 AM
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Overa88ed –

The article had nothing to do with Dale Earnhardt Junior – It was taking to task EGR for folding up shop the week before a race that they almost won last year.

Your feelings twoards Junior are well documented at this point, but this article had nothing at all to do with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Not everything does, even I know that.

Ginger
04/09/2009 11:52 AM
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Thanks, Vito, for another good story about the history of the #8. We who are Jr Nation fans really wanted that number to go with Jr, but the price was just too high. If Teresa had just sold DEI after Dale died, that company might have had a chance to be a prominent competitor. Instead, she has continued to make bad decisions from the day she pushed Ty Norris out the door at the end of 2003. The company went down hill and and hasn’t stopped. And instead of still having the #8 in her control, it is now a Gnassi controlled car. I think Dale would be ashamed of the way she has bespirched his name and the company he built.

Carl D.
04/09/2009 01:54 PM
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Vito…

You obviously have absolutely no idea of what you’re talking about. Even the most casual of race fans who don’t know a thing about chassis dynos or rear downforce knows that Kevin James is damn funny.

Connie
04/09/2009 03:12 PM
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Smartracer – Jr. was not under contract with DEI. That came after Sr. died. Jr. said in his own words that he never needed one with his Daddy.

No matter where you go you still see #8 Jr. shirts, hats and etc. They aren’t wearing that number for anyone BUT Jr. and everyone knows it. When we’ve gone to races there is almost as many red & white Jr. shirts as there is green and blue put together.

I am sorry to see the #8 go the the wayside. Sponsors probably do not want to jump on board the #8 knowing how that number once had the most fans and it is not looked upon so lovingly now. Going from a popular car to disliked by many. Who’d jump on board against those odds. Mark graced it for a while but I never saw a #8 Mark or Eric shirt anywhere. TEI should have known it would not be an easy road for the #8 when it didn’t go with Jr. Common sense. I saw that coming a mile away & I’m not the smart business women she was suppose to be nor do I pretend to be. JMO

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
04/09/2009 03:35 PM
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Carl D. –

The worst movie ever, is “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”. At one point I said outloud in the theater, “OH MY GOD, WHY WON’T IT JUST END….”

I stand by the story and my statement.

Carl D.
04/09/2009 04:47 PM
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Vito…

Paul Blart is the worst movie ever? Apparently you never saw a Paulie Shore movie.

I hope you know I was just messin’ with you. I have great respect for your work and really enjoy your columns. Keep ‘em coming. And thanks for the warning about Paul Blart…

overa88ed
04/09/2009 05:28 PM
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Vito, to borrow a phase from President Clinton’s ’92 election, “IT’S THE ECONOMY STUPID!” Just one of the first decisions alot of teams will have to make in the months ahead. This article had nothing to do with JR.? HA! Had Jr. not driven the #8, this wouldn’t even be a story. Teresa Earnhardt’s intincts were right, the one good decision DEI made was letting a t-shirt selling “rock star” go. Real drivers “EARN” it on the track.

Connie
04/09/2009 06:08 PM
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T-shirt selling “rock star” never had a problem keeping a sponsor nor did the teams under the TEI roof. Jr. gone so is her controlling interest, some drivers, employees, and sponsor. How many people and drivers are now out of a job with her Ginn & Ganissi Mergers/Buy ins our whatever the H she has done to destroy DEI. HOW MANY TEAMS have fallen? Funny how all that happened AFTER your so called rock star left. Sure sounds like she made a great decision. LOL

big alice
04/09/2009 09:54 PM
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Lack of sponsorship has NOTHING to do with DEI / Aric / or the #8…at all. Nearly everyone that has a big dollar sponsor, had the contracts PRIOR to last Fall. It’s well known big name sponsors on top cars like Aflac with Edwards, wants badly to sell off some of their races…and I’d guess that’s likely true for 75% of the sponsors. With the economy as it currently is, how can any company justify the huge expense, compared to lousy current profits?…even if the car was winning every week…you simply can’t spend money that isn’t coming in. Stewart/Haas have gotta be counting their blesings, as those deals were signed barely before all this set in. Those big dollar deals will get even harder to come by for the 2010 season…

Marilyn
04/09/2009 10:35 PM
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Vito…Great article, great job. Keep up the good work and keep on tellin it like it is, as you did in this article.

Joe W.
04/10/2009 04:45 PM
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Good article. I am sad to see another team shut down. However I think the loss of the number 28 team is a bigger loss in terms of history. I sure miss the black and orange Texaco Ford.

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