Dale Earnhardt Jr. in favor of DEI-Ganassi merger but not emotional about former team's demise

  • Article by: JENNA FRYER , Associated Press
  • Updated: November 14, 2008 - 10:48 PM

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not sentimental about the demise of Dale Earnhardt Inc., and he supports the company's partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Had this week's merger not happened, Earnhardt isn't sure DEI could have survived this current economic crisis. The team was formed by the late Dale Earnhardt in 1995 and was intended to be handed down to his children.

"It's good for them, I hope," he said Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "It was going to be disappointing if they didn't merge. Next year would be a tough year. I just hope that they move forward."

NASCAR's most popular driver left DEI at the end of last season to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, citing a tense relationship with his stepmother, Teresa, and a lack of faith in the race team's direction.

It's been a rapid descent since, as the four-car team has lost sponsors and struggled to compete consistently.

He wouldn't speculate on what his father, who was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, would think of the merger or DEI's poor performance. But Earnhardt does believe his father would have had an easier time keeping the team among NASCAR's elite.

"He would have had better luck in securing the sponsorships that they currently have in this state," he said. "When my Daddy died, everything about everything changed. If he was here, it would be sad. But he's not, and everybody has to go do their own thing and make their own way. Everybody has got to take care of themselves. He ain't here to take care of everybody, so you gotta do it yourself, and that's that.

"I want them to succeed, I want them to be happy, I want it to work, but I can't exhaust any of my emotion over it because of what I've got going on myself."

Earnhardt, who made the Chase for the championship this season driving for Hendrick, runs his own Nationwide Series team and has been busy trying to secure sponsorship for his flagship No. 88 car that Brad Keselowski drives. The lack of funding forced him to lay off 20 percent of the JR Motorsports work force late last month.

Still, he's committed to keeping his team afloat and is pleased that Teresa Earnhardt took the necessary steps to keep her team running.

"I just think I ain't got much to say about it anymore. I did. But I'm so far removed from it, past it, a little bit farther removed from it, and I don't have the initial knee-jerk reaction about it no more when these types of things happen," Earnhardt said. "I'm more on the sidelines with everyone else now where I just view it from a distance. But I have an emotional connection with it. I want it to work and want it to do good, but a lot has changed.

"It's difficult to feel any real close connection to it anymore."

DEI has four cars this season but only one has full funding for next year. Ganassi started the year with three cars, folded Dario Franchitti's team in July and was headed into 2009 with 1.5 of his cars funded.

Combined, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will be a four-car operation for Juan Pablo Montoya, Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr. and a driver yet to be named.

The union resulted in 100-plus layoffs at DEI earlier this week, with no guarantee more won't come. Although Earnhardt lamented the loss of jobs, he insisted they were coming regardless.

"They weren't going to run four teams next year, or three or whatever," he said. "You can't blame a single individual for the layoffs. The sport is going to have a lot of those."

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