Everyone knows about the fall from grace, to put it lightly that the former DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated) faced when first, the face of the team, Dale Earnhardt Jr. left his family's own team and his father's lasting legacy to the family. We know how it was unceremoniously later merged with NASCAR nothing in Chip Ganassi of the former similar fledgling team that bore his name.
Now we've seen the once "famed" #8 car driven by Jr, Mark Martin, Joe Weatherly among others shut down due to lack of sponsorship.
Yet it isn't all bad.
Juan Pablo Montoya, the de-facto face of the franchise, is a surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) thirteenth in the Sprint Cup standings. Many fans figured that once he got in better equipment he'd have a real chance to shine and he hasn't disappointed.
I'm convinced that Martin Truex Jr's struggles are due to his 2010 contract demands and similar concern over his future sponsorship with Bass Pro Shops. Once and if that gets resolved, I expect to see the #1 more competitive again.
So where is the silver lining?
Jeffrey Earnhardt, who I believe could be the team's saving grace, or diamond in the rough, their one last shot at the glory that has eluded them to date. For those fans who hate Teresa Earnhardt, (pictured) this could be her one last chance at saving face and keeping the team from total collapse.
The Nineteen year old Earnhardt is currently slated to run a partial (7 race) 2009 Nationwide Series schedule beginning May 30 at Dover International Raceway, the same track that Joey "Stale Bread" Logano debuted at last year.
While he will be technically racing for Rick Ware Racing, while in Nationwide, this run is expected to be short, barring any sort of success where he'd be promoted to the Cup Series under the Earnhardt-Ganassi banner.
Earnhardt will have a few things going for him that even Logano didn't. First, his name will bring obvious following and much needed sponsorship money to the team. Second, like Logano he's found success in everything he's done prior to this stage, most recently in Camping World East series. Lastly and most importantly, he's slated to run only that partial schedule in 2009 before running full time in Nationwide next year.
Logano was clearly rushed to the Cup series to make room for that departed Tony Stewart, a past champion, who left to form his own team Stewart-Haas Racing. I doubted this promotion from the beginning seeing how Logano had literally run only a handful of Nationwide races.
Yes I said it, Nationwide, as in second tier, races. Granted he won one, but so what? So did Jeff Green and Dale Jr. In fact, both won Nationwide championships before being promoted. Logano was expected to not only take over for Stewart, but obtained the former's very identity complete with his #20 car, crew, crew chief, and Home Depot sponsorship leaving a former champion to make due, which he did beautifully thus far.
By spending more time in Nationwide as the 2010 season plan currently calls for, Earnhardt will gain more valuable seat time (i.e. experience) that Logano lacks and is showing now that Logano has been rushed to the Cup Series. A few wins and poles will only increase his confidence and exposure before the time is right to promote him rightly to the big show.
Any NASCAR fan should know the name Adam Petty,Great-grandson of the legendary Lee Petty, founder of the former Petty Enterprises and one of NASCAR's pioneers. To put it more contemporary, he was the grandson of Richard "the King" Petty NASCAR's seven-time Cup Champion and all-time winningest driver. At the time, Petty was believed to be the nation's only forth-generation athlete in any sport.
Many people believed that the racing gift skipped a generation from Richard to grandson Adam who was destined for similar greatness before he tragically died May 12, 2000 at a Busch Series practice lap at Loudon New Hampshire leaving many fans, like myself wondering "What if?"
The consensus of that answer, though debated, seems to be that the now 28 year old Petty would undoubtedly have at least one Cup Championship by now not to mention a slew of wins and other accomplishments. More importantly, with sponsorship a given, Petty Enterprises would absolutely exist today at its former garage location in Levelcross, North Carolina. More likely however is the success that would have followed as Petty would be considered a "power team" today, one that competes for, and wins championships, similar to how NASCAR giants Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing do.
This was the same vision Dale Earnhardt Sr. had when he began Dale Earnhardt Inc. back in 2000, and one that to date, never existed.
While many traditional fans like myself will argue that there is no way Earnhardt-Ganassi can be considered anything near the same thing that DEI was intended, its all we have left, and the team young Jeffrey will soon be racing under.
Other fans will also question why I dared to compare Jeffrey to the younger Petty who was more established, but I see this as a second chance of hope for a next generation driver and a base starving for its success.
Both family's explain NASCAR's base and origins as these were two of the latest heirs to the family name and both were expected to bring their family's name and team's back to prominence in the sport their kin dominated.
Success for Earnhardt would mean a new cash flow for a racing stable that needs it (have I stressed this enough?). It would mean renewed hope among NASCAR's base who vie for a Southern driver to rally around, one who can legitimately compete each week for wins.
It would also mean a continuance of one of NASCAR's founding families rightfully at the top of its profession and an inspired new generation of fans tired of the Hollywood mantra dominating NASCAR's new squeaky-clean, politically correct, corporate image. It would mean a chance to rebuild this brand around younger Southern drivers like Earnhart and fellow developmental driver Trevor Bayne.
While I am no fan of corporate Jr or the team he races for in Hendrick Motorsports, the younger Earnhardt creates a third chance for fans young and old to unite and embrace the Earnhardt name and wish for its success. I know I will be one of them hoping the best for a team that desperately needs it, almost as much as NASCAR does.
It all begins May 30 in Dover. if this doesn't work, Teresa and Earnhardt-Ganassi might as well close up shop leaving NASCAR with more of an identity crisis than it already faces.
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