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Did You Notice? Teresa Earnhardt’s Silence, NASCAR’s Ugly Economy & Points Racing at Indy?

Did You Notice? That in the ugly aftermath of the Martin Truex Jr. situation – in which a report was planted suggesting he had already signed a two-year deal to remain at DEI – Teresa Earnhardt has yet to speak up about what’s going on. And that’s important, because the future of the very organization she runs depends on Truex staying put and driving the No. 1 car for years to come.

For those who haven’t been following this deal, here’s a quick summary. First off, DEI is supposedly up for sale. You can listen to whomever you want – the organization has issued repeated denials – but sources who claim they’ve been personally contacted to invest have repeatedly assured me this is true. Assuming that’s the case, then Truex becomes central to not only the company’s future, but the potential value that an investor is willing to assign to the program. It’s one thing to just be selling Aric Almirola, a charismatic but unproven rookie driver in the series. It’s another to pair him up with Truex, the 20-something veteran who’s already made the Chase and has a dynamic sponsor in Bass Pro Shops sitting in his back pocket.

So, DEI’s marketing guru Max Siegel knows exactly what’s at stake here. With Ryan Newman virtually assured of a ride with Stewart-Haas, there’s no other A-level free agent out there who’s capable of being a driver you could build a program around. If the organization loses Truex, the chances of Paul Menard bolting increase, and it’s going to be nearly impossible to land a sponsor for Regan Smith’s struggling No. 01. So, according to reports (which don’t surprise me, as the initial DEI for sale story also smelled of being planted) the exec made a pre-emptive move to tell ESPN’s David Newton Truex was already signed, a leveraging tool to get the contract set in stone. By publicizing the veteran was re-signing with DEI, Siegel was hoping to nix other offers on the table and convince all other competing entities Truex was suddenly unavailable.

But the gamble backfired – reportedly leading to a shouting match between Truex and Siegel – and now their No. 1 driver is even more upset than he was after a 150-penalty for an incorrect Car of Tomorrow template at Daytona. Back then, rumors swirled he was on his way out, and I’m sure these actions aren’t exactly creating a whole lot of warm and fuzzy feelings for Truex no matter where the negotiations stood beforehand.

So, what do you do now?

I’ll tell you what you would do if you were Rick Hendrick, JD Gibbs, Richard Childress, Chip Ganassi, etc. – you would speak up and publicly go on record that Truex is the guy you want to keep for the long-term. For when a car owner comes out and sends that message, it’s ten times more powerful than a Max Siegel or John Story or whatever Vice President you have running the program. Teresa isn’t usually about public endorsements, continuing to shy away from the media and the spotlight. But since she’s never been known as a public figure to begin with, how powerful would it be for her to come out and refute some of these reports, making it clear as to whether she planned to build a future for Truex at DEI?

Instead, she hasn’t said anything at all… and that makes me wonder if the next time we’ll see her speak is when she’s busy putting the “For Sale” sign out the company’s front door.

Did You Notice? That with all the turmoil surrounding NASCAR and the economy, I was wondering how many teams had sponsorship actually confirmed for 2008. So, check out this list, and it’ll surprise you – it’s far less than you might think:

The Big Four, as always, is just about all set to go:
Roush Fenway Racing – 4 Teams (Questionable: No. 26 – Jamie McMurray)
Richard Childress Racing – 4 Teams (including one new one, the No. 33)
Joe Gibbs Racing – 3 Teams
Hendrick Motorsports – 4 Teams
Total: 15 Cars

Here’s the rest of the confirmed sponsor lineup:
Gillett Evernham Motorsports: 2 Teams (No. 9, No. 19)
Penske Racing: 2 Teams (No. 2, No. 77)
Chip Ganassi Racing: 1 Team (No. 42)
Stewart-Haas Racing: 2 Teams (No. 4, No. 14) (were 66 and 70)
Hall of Fame Racing: 1 Team (No. 96)
Furniture Row Racing: 1 Team (No. 78)
JTG Daugherty Racing: 1 Team (No. 47)
Team Red Bull: 2 Teams (No. 83, No. 84)
DEI: 1 Team (No. 15, even if Menard goes elsewhere he’s sponsored)
Total: 13 Cars
GRAND TOTAL OF 2009 CONFIRMED FULLY-SPONSORED TEAMS: 28

That’s right, boys and girls… 28. That’s it! Among the missing are three of four cars at DEI (depending on what Truex does and whether Bass Pro Shops goes with them), all three Michael Waltrip Racing cars, both Petty Enterprises cars, the Penske Racing No. 12, both Yates Racing cars, the Wood Brothers, Chip Ganassi’s No. 41, Roush Fenway’s fifth program, Robby Gordon Motorsports and Gillett Evernham’s No. 10 with Patrick Carpentier aboard.

I don’t need to tell you that’s a long list of unsponsored vehicles. Of course, that number won’t remain as low, but I have a hard time believing every single one of these teams is going to saddle up and be ready for 2009 at this point… especially because now is the time you need people to sign off on a deal in the boardroom. No doubt, this will continue to be a story to watch moving forward…

Did You Notice? Richard Childress’s ending quotes in ESPN’s pre-race piece? (What an amazing feature, by the way). Childress made a big deal about still wanting to win championships, still wanting to go out there every week and be the best he could be… and then rattled off all the people he felt he owed it to in order to keep on chugging. I just thought that was interesting… if your heart is still 100% in the game, don’t you owe it to yourself to want to succeed above all else? To me, it came out as Childress was still struggling with the decision to keep racing a lot more than he was letting himself admit.

Did You Notice? The irony in Marcos Ambrose – driving the No. 47 car of JTG Daugherty Racing that used to be partnered with the Wood Brothers – knocking the famed No. 21 out of the field? It was a classic changing of the guard, a new kid on the block knocking off a former champ and team whose time – and success – has long past.

I hope the Woods are still around in 2009… but these are the types of coincidental moments that build a story’s final chapter.

And on a side note, kudos to Ambrose, who kept his nose clean and his car in one piece en route to a solid top 25 his first Cup oval-track start.

Did You Notice? That hidden amidst the tire debacle of Indianapolis – a theme so well documented, I chose not to address it here (see my Monday column for more on that) – were some passing comments over the weekend that drivers ranked sixth through 12th in points should play it safe at the Brickyard. (Translation: if you’re running fifth with 10 to go and think you can catch the leader, just back off and take it slow because you’re earning points that’ll get you into the playoffs).

It’s this type of mentality – verified by car owner Ray Evernham during the ESPN show on Sunday – that has me sick and tired of the Chase. The more I figure things out in my head, it’s not that I dislike the concept of a playoff system – it’s that a playoff system takes away from the aggressive side-by-side racing that made this series what it is today.

In the second-biggest race of the year, there’s no reason why every single driver in the field shouldn’t be taking chances in order to reach the Winner’s Circle by the end of 400 miles. NASCAR needs to start doing something to ensure that’s the case – at the very least, perhaps doubling the points you earn at one of the series’ “major” events, like Daytona, the Coke 600, and Indianapolis. Something’s got to be done, because Indy should never be about points racing. Can you imagine Ray Harroun trying to play it safe in third so he can win the overall points championship instead of the first Indy 500? Geez.

Wow… looking back at what I’ve written this week, you might as well title this column “Doom and Gloom.” So, let’s give credit where credit’s due… kudos to NASCAR for apologizing after the Great Indianapolis debacle of 2008. I applaud them admitting fault, and it’s a step in the right direction. Now, let’s see if they’ll push for refunds to fans that watched that unglorified mess.

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