DEI and Jr. may part ways

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 4, 2007

The wheels turning in private could have been made public this past week.

Updates to the Dale Earnhardt Jr. and DEI negotiations have been in the news since before the season started. On a consistent basis, we have been given tidbits here and there to the progress of the discussions.

Back at Daytona, we learned that Junior and his chief negotiator, his sister Kelley Elledge, put the ownership of company required to sign an extension at 51 percent.

That was a huge admission by Junior. At that point, many people started to doubt the likelihood of Junior remaining with the company that bears his name.

The news released this week should add tremendously to that doubt. It does for me, anyway. Representatives from both DEI and Robert Yates Racing confirmed that the companies have been in discussions involving a possible merger.

That’s not very surprising considering that rumor started late last season when Yates was on the verge of closing shop on the no. 88 car.

The part of this situation that shocked me, however, was that DEI is having continued discussions with Ford.

What? For over 20 years, Dale Earnhardt was Chevrolet’s most recognizable and successful driver and ambassador. And now the company he founded is considering leaving General Motors to drive another make of car.

Robert Yates made it clear that the discussions of a merger are, in fact, progressing, but his allegiance is still with Ford and he didn’t foresee that changing.

Several factors involving this deal lead me to believe that, behind closed doors, the feeling of the management of DEI is that the situation with Junior is past the point of no return. Teresa Earnhardt and Max Siegel, president of global operations for DEI, could very well be positioning the company for life after Junior.

First hint is the number of teams. The new NASCAR limit for team ownership is four teams. The DEI/RYR combination involves five teams, currently, although Ricky Rudd in the no. 88 is not long term. With Junior, the combined company would have to shed a team. Without him, they are good to go.

Secondly, is the timing of the “leak” of information.

Supposedly, discussions with Yates have been ongoing for several months and discussions with Ford for a couple of years. Why, just weeks before the deadline set by Junior, are hearing of the talks?

Lastly, and most importantly, is the proposed switch to Ford. Could you even imagine Chevrolet letting Junior get away?

Unless you TIVO through all the commercials during the race, Junior is in every Chevrolet commercial out there. Junior driving a Ford would be akin to Michael Jordan wearing Reeboks instead of Nikes.

Unless the world comes off its axis, I can’t see Junior staying with DEI if all these variables come into play. How cool would it be to see a red no. 3 Budweiser car on the track next season?

Junior could be following the same path as his father, driving for Richard Childress Racing while building his own team, in this case, JR Motorsports.

Richmond under the lights this week: My pick to win this week is Jeff Burton.