A merger with Ginn Racing—and a new role for veteran Mark Martin—elevates DEI to NASCAR's elite level
THE BIRTH Of Nascar's next powerhouse team took place high above Manhattan, more than 600 miles away from Carolina stock car country. On July 17 Teresa Earnhardt, owner of Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI), rode an elevator 35 stories up to meet with real estate developer and fledgling NASCAR team owner Bobby Ginn in his office overlooking Central Park. Three hours later the two shook hands on a deal to immediately merge teams—a move that should make DEI (the name under which the combined entity is racing) a member of NASCAR's ruling class, joining the ranks of Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway Racing.
"This is huge for our future," says Martin Truex Jr., who will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2008 as DEI's top driver when Little E starts racing for Hendrick. "We'll no longer have to worry about not having as many resources as other teams."
Indeed, the merger, which was completed on July 25, transforms DEI from a cost-conscious three-car team to a deep-pocketed four-car team. The DEI Chevys will be moved from their current shop in Mooresville, N.C. (square footage: 85,000), to the sparkling new Ginn shop (square footage: 180,000) five miles away.
Taking a page from Hendrick, the four teams will operate side by side under the same roof—enhancing the information flow between crew chiefs. What's more, Ginn already possesses state-of-the art machinery such as a seven-post shaker rig (estimated price tag: $5 million), a device that allows teams to test cars under racing conditions while in the shop. Before this, DEI had made do with renting time on a seven post.
Last Friday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway the crew chiefs and engineers of the newly formed team gathered for an introductory meeting. Addressing the troops was a key element in this merger: driver Mark Martin. A longtime friend of the elder Dale Earnhardt, the 48-year old Martin, who was leading the point standings earlier this season for Ginn Racing before he opted to run only a part-time schedule, will be charged with mentoring the new team's young drivers: 27-year-old Truex; Paul Menard, 26; Aric Almirola, 21, (who will share Martin's ride in '08); and whoever takes Junior's seat in 2008 (probably 22-year-old Kyle Busch). Hours after learning of the merger, Martin called his new teammates and promised to share every bit of information he has each weekend. That gesture established Martin as the veteran leader of the team—something DEI has been missing ever since the death of the Intimidator in 2001.
"When we lost Dale Sr., we lost our leader," says DEI director of motor sports Richie Gilmore. "People wanted to work hard for Dale simply because of who he was. Mark Martin has that same kind of influence."
On Sunday, in the All-state 500 at the Brickyard, the new DEI got off to a solid start: Martin came in sixth, Truex finished 12th, and Little E led 33 laps before blowing an engine and finishing 34th. "This is just the beginning," said Martin. "Hopefully, this will be the start of something special."
ONLY AT SI.COM Lars Anderson's Cup analysis every Tuesday and Friday.
1 Six of the last nine winners at the Brickyard have gone on to win the Cup title—which bodes well for the title hopes of Tony Stewart, who took the checkered flag on Sunday. By winning his last two races, Stewart—a perennial late-season charger—has shown that he's ready to make a run for a third title in five years.
2 Juan Pablo Montoya (above), who won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, had his highest career finish on an oval in the Cup series on Sunday, coming in second. He's a long shot to make the 12-man Chase field—he's 18th in the standings—but he's a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year.
DARRON CUMMINGS/AP (TOP)
SHARING Truex (left) and Martin will work together for Ginn and Earnhardt (insets)
JOHN RAOUX/AP (GINN)
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FERNANDO MEDINA/REUTERS (EARNHARDT)
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NIGEL KINRADE (MONTOYA)