In 2007, the sport’s biggest name, Dale Earnhardt Jr., announced he would be leaving the team his father built to go to Hendrick Motorsports.
The announcement led to questions about the future of Dale Earnhardt Inc. In addition, questions surrounded Martin Truex Jr.’s ability to become the face of the legendary team.
While DEI has never won a Sprint Cup championship, the team bears the name of a NASCAR icon. And for that reason, expectations are huge.
Jr.’s highly publicized departure seemingly looked to be the end of DEI. The team struggled in 2008.
Truex was hit with a 150 point penalty. Teresa Earnhardt was rumored to be considering selling the team. There were conflicting reports over Truex Jr’s option for 2009, which led to a fight with DEI’s president Max Siegel. Siegel eventually left the team. Mark Martin, like Jr., left the team for Hendrick. Paul Menard left the team for Yates Racing, taking his father’s Menard sponsorship with him. The team also lost its US Army sponsorship to Stewart Haas Racing and Ryan Newman. DEI was left with four cars, three drivers (Truex Jr, Aric Almirola, and Regan Smith), and one sponsor.
Enter Chip Ganassi Racing. CGR and DEI merged to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, virtually saving both companies. CGR brought Juan Pablo Montoya, and Target. He also had Wrigley’s signed for a half-year worth of sponsorship.
Things were looking up for the team, as EGR was said to be courting past champion, Bobby Labonte. But then, a deal feel through and Labonte was announced as the driver of Hall of Fame Racing’s No. 96, which has an alliance with Yates Racing.
When the dust settled from the offseason, and teams returned to Daytona International Speedway for practice for the 500, Truex unloaded with a fast car. He was in the top 5 in both practices. And when qualifying came around, he posted the fastest time, taking the pole.
This is exactly what EGR needed to do out of the gate. Taking the pole of the season’s biggest race will help this team put one of its toughest offseasons behind it.
While the work is not done yet, the team can pat itself on the back for a good showing in the first step of the Daytona 500. Next up, winning one of the Gatorade Duels.
Following Sunday’s showing, I for one will not be counting out EGR.