2008 Team Reviews: DEI=DIE?

What Happened: After the company namesake, Dale Earnhardt Jr, left for Hendrick Dale Earnhardt Incorporated went winless for the first time since 1999. The team fielded four full-time teams, thanks in part to their merger with Ginn Racing in 2007. Martin Truex Jr was the highest finishing driver in 15th place, although Mark Martin had the best numbers (4 top 5’s, 11 top 10’s) in his 24-race schedule. One-time Martin apprentice, Regan Smith, won the Rookie of the Year award despite finishing 34th in the standings. Paul Menard won the pole at the summer Daytona race, finished 2nd at Talladega and spent the rest of the year a lap down (or at least it felt that way).

What Went Well: Mark Martin had an excellent season despite his reduced schedule. He nearly won races at Phoenix and Pocono and proved that he was still very competitive. Unfortunately he was so competitive, that he will drive full time in 2009-for Hendrick Motorsports. Martin Truex Jr had a solid season with 3 top 5’s and 11 top 10’s. DEI’s merged engine program with RCR was also a mixed bag. DEI put cars in the top 10 starting grid 33 times, but only finished in the top ten 24 times. They had 4 engine related failures, but also showed serious horses on restrictor plate tracks. Beyond Menard’s pole win, Regan Smith nearly won the fall Talladega race with a push from Menard before being penalized for an illegal pass. Maybe the most promising part of 2008 was Aric Almirola’s performance. He scored a top ten in his first race at Bristol and had several other encouraging runs, including leading 53 laps at Martinsville. Almirola assumes a full time seat for 2009 and will run for Rookie of the Year honors.

What Went Wrong: While never being a legitimate Championship-calibur organization, DEI has always at least competed with the sport’s powerhouse teams. In 2008 no driver was close to making the Chase and only Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr came close to consistently running with the leaders. DEI drivers led a combined 268 laps. In 2007 Truex led 581 himself. While the on-track performance took a serious dive, the off-track news was even worse. US Army did not renew their sponsorship past 2008, Paul Menard took his personal sponsorship with him to Yates Racing and the #01 team couldn’t find fulltime sponsorship for 2008 or 2009. The year ended on such a bad note that the team-only one year removed from acquiring Ginn Racing and aggressive expansion-was forced to merge with Chip Ganassi Racing. As of December, the new team now has three drivers and two fully sponsored cars.

The Current State: DEI president Max Siegel has to wonder, “I signed up for this? The company is drastically different than the one he was hired to run two years ago. Obviously the economic depression has accelerated DEI’s tailspin, but the on-track performance dwindled far sooner than the sponsorship money dried up. The merger with Ganassi places their engine program with RCR in question and might further weaken the team. DEI-Ganassi has a decent collection of drivers, but as Truex’s ’08 showed a team is only as good as its cars.