A few weeks ago, Teresa Earnhardt announced that the flagship car of the organization that her late husband founded would be shutting down due to lack of sponsorship for its' driver, Aric Almirola.
With this decision, comes the closing of the car that Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove to primetime when he compiled 17 victories, multiple championship finishes in the top five, and a win in the 2004 Daytona 500.
The No. 8 car defined what DEI was as an organization on and off the track.
It had one of the biggest corporate sponsors when Budweiser jumped on board with the young, brash Earnhardt Jr. in 2000, where he won three races—including NASCAR's all star race.
Earnhardt Jr. also proved that DEI's restrictor plate program was the best in NASCAR from roughly 2000-2004.
The No. 8 team had everything that defined a team: great owner, great crew chief, car chief, engineers, all the way down the line to the fabricators of the body itself.
That team was to DEI what the No. 24 team is to Hendrick Motorsports. When people mentioned DEI in a NASCAR conversation, the No. 8 car and Earnhardt Jr. weren't far behind.
After 2004—although the performance of the No. 8 car wasn't as dominant as it used to be—the fans were still behind everything it stood for as well as its driver.
It went through two winless seasons in 2005 and 2007, and at the end of 2007, the only driver that the No. 8 car had known—Earnhardt Jr.—left the company and went through with the decision he announced earlier that year to join the powerhouse team of Hendrick Motorsports.
Earnhardt Jr. and Teresa ensued in a long battle because Earnhardt wanted to take his number and longtime sponsor Budweiser with him, but Teresa was able to withhold both of those from his possession.
Once Earnhardt Jr. left, the No. 8 car began its slow decline until it was driven to its retirement in early 2009.
Almirola and Mark Martin split the ride in 2008, and while Almirola never had much success, Martin drove it to a lot of great runs—had it not been for fuel mileage, he could have won the spring race in Phoenix in 2008.
Then for the second time in two years, DEI lost a big name driver to Hendrick Motorsports, when Martin signed a full-time deal to drive the No. 5 car in 2009, and it gave Almirola the pressure of bringing the No. 8 car back to greatness all by himself.
Needless to say, Almirola was never up to the task and it showed in his performance. Just eight races in, we won't be seeing the No. 8 car on Sunday afternoons for a very long time.
For a car that had essentially the perfect team until 2004, to let something that great slip away and have arguably the most recognizable number in NASCAR for a period of time is unacceptable.
Now, DEI places its pressure on the shoulders of its new flagship driver Martin Truex Jr. With the exception of a great performance here and there, and his one win in Dover, I don't think he'll be able to resurrect the organization that the Earnhardt men took so long to build, and took so little time for Teresa to destroy.
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