What the Earnhardt-Ganassi Split Means for NASCAR

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2014

Thirteen years after Dale Earnhardt passed away in the 2001 Daytona 500, the last vestige of the company he founded—Dale Earnhardt Inc.—will not be part of NASCAR in 2014.
Thirteen years after Dale Earnhardt passed away in the 2001 Daytona 500, the last vestige of the company he founded—Dale Earnhardt Inc.—will not be part of NASCAR in 2014.David Taylor/Getty Images

For the first time in 30 years, one of the most revered team names in NASCAR annals will no longer exist.

Last week's news came and went fairly quietly, but the magnitude will definitely be felt throughout the sport in 2014 as the last vestige of team ownership connected to the late Dale Earnhardt will no longer exist.

In the same season that team owner Richard Childress brought back the No. 3 Chevrolet for the first time since Earnhardt's tragic death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, there will no longer be a team connection to the late Intimidator.

Perhaps you didn't catch the news—it was made public with very little fanfare indeed.

But the fact remains that what had been Earnhardt Ganassi Racing since 2009, and Dale Earnhardt Inc. before that (dating back to 1984, the same year Rick Hendrick formed Hendrick Motorsports, for whom Earnhardt's son Dale Jr. now drives for), is now history.

EGR has now reverted back to its original name of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

Gone is any connection to Earnhardt or his widow, Teresa.

Gone is the last vestige of keeping the late Man In Black's name as a team owner alive, as well.

Sure, Dale Jr. remains a team owner in the Nationwide Series, but his organization has long been known and continues to be known as JR Motorsports, not Dale Earnhardt Jr. Motorsports or something similar.

Frankly, NASCAR without the name of Earnhardt in the corporate moniker of a race organization is almost like not having the team names of Petty or Wood still in business.

It's just plain sad.

The elder Earnhardt first formed a team with his name on its front doors in 1984 to campaign a part-time Busch Series effort. That eventually evolved into a five-year run from 1995-99 that the organization competed on the then-Craftsman Truck Series with Ron Hornaday Jr.

And it wasn't until 1996 when what became famously known as DEI that the organization began to campaign cars in the then-Winston Cup Series.

That same year also marked the debut of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Busch Series. After part-time efforts in 1996 and 1997, Junior would go on to win back-to-back Busch championships in 1998 and 1999.

On the Winston Cup side, DEI competed in four Cup races in 1997 with Steve Park and 30 races in 1998 split between Park and Darrell Waltrip.

It wasn't until 1999 that DEI really began to hit its stride with a full-season campaign with Park behind the wheel, followed by a two-car effort in 2000 with Park and Junior in his first full season in Cup racing.

Even with the tragic death of its founder and namesake, DEI continued to grow into one of the premier teams in the Cup series, including the younger Earnhardt, Michael Waltrip (before he formed Michael Waltrip Racing) and eventually Martin Truex Jr. behind the wheel.

But when the younger Earnhardt parted ways with his stepmother and succeeding team owner Teresa Earnhardt following the 2007 season after a power struggle for control of the organization, things at DEI went downhill rather fast.

There was the ill-fated and short-lived association—called a "merger" of sorts—with real estate developer Bobby Ginn, who seemed to come and go from the NASCAR world in the blink of an eye.

Earnhardt's widow then merged her organization with that of Chip Ganassi, forming Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in 2009, a business marriage that lasted five seasons.

Going forward now, the Earnhardt name will only be associated with Junior's efforts at Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports, as well as those of Jeffrey Earnhardt, who will compete this season in the Nationwide Series for JD Motorsports.

But there will be no true vestige of the Earnhardt name as part of an official team name in 2014 and perhaps forever.

And NASCAR will be poorer as a result.

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski


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