Desire to win Cup fueled Little E's choice to leave DEI
Posted: Thursday May 10, 2007 3:35PM; Updated: Thursday May 10, 2007 4:49PM
SI.com's Lars Anderson has long covered Dale Earnhardt Jr. and spoke at length with the NASCAR star after he announced he will be leaving DEI at the end of the 2007 season. SI.com caught up with Lars to find out why this move happened and what the future holds for Earnhardt and DEI.
Why did Dale Jr. decide to leave DEI?
He did this solely based on the fact that he believed he couldn't win a championship at DEI and that he needed to move to another race team to legitimately contend for a championship.
How much of this decision was business and how much of it was personal?
It was entirely personal. This was clearly not a business decision on Teresa Earnhardt's behalf. Dale Jr. is, arguably, the most popular driver in the history of the sport. Why would any owner in his or her right mind let him get away? Most observers agree that what Dale Jr. was asking for was not unreasonable.
What did Dale Jr. want from DEI?
He was asking for majority ownership and day-to-day control of the entire DEI operation. While on paper, that may have been what Teresa offered him, it was pretty clear that, in fact, she was still going to be running the show behind the scenes in what they offered Dale Jr. He did not think that DEI, under Teresa's leadership, could contend for a championship; he was very clear about that. And that was the one thing that needed to change for him to stay. That didn't, so he felt like he had no other choice but to leave.
What is the source of the frosty relationship between Dale Jr. and Teresa ?
The source of the tension goes back to when Dale Jr. was a kid. The relationship was never great. Dale Jr. said that they had plenty of good times together. But clearly the problem that they had has been an ongoing one. The one common thread they had was Dale Earnhardt Sr., and once he passed away, that thread unraveled. And one could argue that their relationship unraveled that day, too.
How difficult a decision was this for Dale Jr.?
I think it was the single-most difficult decision he ever made in his life, racing or not. He knows that his dad wanted him to be at that company for his entire career. His dad built that company for Dale Jr. to race. He's got family who works there. He's got 400 employees who work there who are dedicated solely to him. For him to leave was a monumentally difficult decision.
What will be the impact at DEI?
DEI is going to struggle, beginning next year. You'd assume that a lot of the key personnel there are going to leave and follow Junior wherever he goes or leave and go to different teams. Martin Truex Jr. will probably leave, so DEI is going to be without its two drivers. So they're going to go from a team that was struggling to be in the top 10 week in and week out to a team that maybe struggles to get into the top 20. Maybe a team that no longer qualifies for all of the races.
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