Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What would Dale Earnhardt think of what's happened to DEI?

By Jerry Bonkowski

It was about two years ago this week that Kevin Harvick caused quite a stir in the NASCAR world when he called Teresa Earnhardt a "deadbeat owner."

Harvick's assessment was based upon a number of things, particularly the fact that the widow of the late Dale Earnhardt rarely made appearances at races, never spoke to the media, was hardly ever around to congratulate the team's drivers in victory lane or for an otherwise job well done, and seemed to have little visible participation in day-to-day operations of Dale Earnhardt Inc.

And don't forget what was still to come in the months after Harvick's comments: the power struggle for control of DEI between Teresa Earnhardt and her stepson and the company's franchise star, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It was a battle that would play out in the media for several months before Junior begrudgingly threw in the towel, gave up hopes of wrestling away controlling interest and decided to move to Hendrick Motorsports to begin the next phase of his racing career.

While the loss of Junior was significant, the party line trotted out by Teresa and company executives was that DEI would rebuild without its star, the most popular driver in the sport now six years running, and grow to become stronger than ever.

A few months later, reporters gathered at DEI last January for a lunch soiree thrown by widow Earnhardt. She was as hospitable and sociable as she could be, smiling almost constantly.

But one thing was so stark in its conspicuous absence that many reporters didn't realize it at first until some of their fellow peers asked, "Where's Junior?"

That's right, just two months after he had competed in his last race for DEI, virtually every vestige of Junior's 12-year tenure with his father's company had been wiped away … albeit for a couple of souvenirs still for sale in the company gift shop.

Gone were photos, trophies, race cars and virtually any other reminder that Junior was ever there. When first informed, Junior was as shocked as anyone, even lamenting how DEI wouldn't even sell him a few prized helmets that he wanted to buy.

Max Siegel, DEI's highly-respected president of Global Operations and the highest-ranking African-American executive in NASCAR, claimed all things Junior were put in storage to accommodate the 200 or so reporters that had come to visit during the annual NASCAR preseason media tour.

It didn't take long for reporters to see through Siegel's explanation – and realize this was actually a well-orchestrated move, most likely by Teresa -- to put even more distance between DEI and Junior.

Now, let's move forward to 2009. For the third January in a row, and even though they weren't even part of the annual media tour for the first time in memory, Teresa Earnhardt and DEI were once again in the news.

Siegel announced two weeks ago that he was leaving DEI to head up NASCAR's Drive for Diversity initiative, as well as joining an Indianapolis law firm and also forming his own marketing and entertainment company.

That sounds like he'll be a pretty busy guy. Guess he didn't have much to do at DEI, which has become a shell of what it once was, and which probably played a significant role in Siegel's departure.

It was a move that surprised many, as Siegel – who joined the company in late 2006 and was No. 2 in overall power at DEI only to Mrs. Earnhardt – seemed destined to spend many years at the helm of DEI, running all day-to-day operations while Teresa was off with daughter Taylor at some equestrian event or sunbathing on the patio.

Given the trouble DEI has had in the last two years – including the Bobby Ginn debacle in 2007, and the virtual necessity to merge with Chip Ganassi or potentially go out of business at the end of last season (and dreadfully renaming the company Earnhardt Ganassi Racing) – Siegel's departure was yet another bad sign, perhaps the worst of all.

It's not surprising that some think he jumped from a sinking ship before going down with it.

And last week came a report from veteran reporter Mike Mulhern that Siegel's right-hand man, DEI vice president John Story, was also leaving the company after just two years to join forces with Siegel both with Drive for Diversity and the new marketing/entertainment firm.

Add all that up and you can't help wonder if perhaps we may be seeing Teresa Earnhardt's swan song from DEI and NASCAR in the not too distant future. The woman who became internationally ridiculed as a "deadbeat owner" may soon be a "former owner."

Think about it: what does Teresa really have left to control? Ganassi isn't going to sit idly by, watching what's left of his once semi-solid Sprint Cup program fall by the wayside if left to Earnhardt's control.

And frankly, perhaps Teresa has just had it with the world of NASCAR. We'd love to have her tell us, but she rarely speaks to the media, so we're pretty much left to our own devices to speculate and hypothesize.

One of the things I heard during last week's NASCAR Media Tour was that Teresa was possibly going to back out quietly and gracefully, let Ganassi run all EGR operations, and she would be happy running what has been her No. 1 sideline business, that of promoting the legend and legacy of her late husband.

Even though The Intimidator was taken from us nearly eight years ago – Feb. 18, 2001 – Teresa Earnhardt has done all she can to make sure her husband is never forgotten by NASCAR fans.

Of course, the fact his legacy also continues to be a huge cash cow for Mrs. Earnhardt is not lost.

And if it came down to deciding whether to keep running the race team or simply oversee keeping her late husband in our hearts and minds, the decision would seem like a no-brainer for Mrs. Earnhardt.

All things being equal, I'm betting Teresa would be more than content to keep cashing in on Dale's memory and image – don't be surprised, just like we've seen virtually every February since his death, if there's a brand new line of clothing and souvenirs promoting the man in black's legacy ready for sale in a few weeks at Daytona – than hanging around the so-called Garage Mahal day in and day out.

Actually, that may be the best thing for her and NASCAR – even though it would further diminish the value of what was once one of the most powerful organizations in the sport.

Who knows, given the current economic climate, Mrs. Earnhardt may want to sell pretty fast before the value of her shares drop even further.

But I can't help think of the irony. She refused to sell even a small part of the company to Junior, yet was more than willing to merge with both Ginn and Ganassi, not to mention form an engine-building partnership with Richard Childress.

Maybe if she would have just sold out to Junior in the first place, many of us wouldn't help but wonder what Dale Sr. would be thinking today, seeing what has become of the once-mighty empire he built.

Say, Junior, are you still interested in buying DEI? You might just be able to get a pretty darned good deal right now.

Feel free to post a comment below. But if you want to potentially have your thoughts featured in next week's Trading Paint mailbag, please e-mail any comments or questions -- and include your full name and city and state -- to motorsportwriter@msn.com

40 comments:

  1. It is hard to understand what is going on with Teresa, she has totally ruined a company that had great potential up until the end of the 2004 season when there were a lot of changes made to the things Dale Sr had set in place. I am a huge Dale Sr fan and have been since 1980 when I first started watching racing, but it is very hard for me to pull for a DEI car on the track now, and that is in a big part thanks to Teresa Earnhardt. I for one think Dale Sr would have had the company on the same level as RCR at this point and well on the way to being the next HMS

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  2. Dale Sr. wouldn't be thinking a thing about this, cuz it never would've happened. Jr. would still be in the 8, Truex signed long term, Mikey I think would've still ventured to open MWR due to Toyota's entrance into the sport, and if Menard weren't re signed, Kezlowski in the 15.

    What she did was run DEI into the ground, and take a state of the art shop and turn it into offices and a museum. She should've given Dale Jr. the 51%, period. The building has his name on it, and Dale Sr. built it for HIM, for when he and Teresa retired.

    As an addition to the point, I feel that, in the long run, Jr. is going to benefit in a better way than had he would've benefited with controlling interest in DEI.

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  3. He would sat to JR and his Sister hit the road you S O B's . Just like Teresa did.

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  4. Anonymous You are a smart person .

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  5. Who gives a fat rat's ass what happens to Teresa, or Jr., or the old dead Earnhardt! Time to move on. Please!

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  6. "Who gives a fat rat's ass what happens to Teresa, or Jr., or the old dead Earnhardt! Time to move on. Please!"

    Spot on!

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  7. I wonder if Delana Harvick would be at the track on a regular basis if Kevin had lost his life there?

    Likely she would be "absentee" just like Teresa Earnhardt.

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  8. To posts 3 thru 6, you're a bunch of tards! Shouldn't you all be passed out drunk by now atfer beating your wives? (yes, you too, anna!)

    If you don't care, why read the article? Wasn't it clear enough in the title, or did your illegitimate kid not mention that when they read it to you?


    Dumbasses!

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  9. Okay, folks, come on and let's keep the language a bit cleaner. We're a classy operation here and that's what sets us apart from other sites. We wouldn't want this to spiral downward to the point where we get lumped in with every other site out there, do we? Thanks for understanding and keeping it fun for everyone. ....... JB

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  10. If some of you rocket scientists don't care, then why did you click on the link? If you think rude comments make you look like you're somehow smarter than the rest of us, think again. But why do I even ask why people do what they do?

    Anyway, nice column, Jerry. She IS a major mystery and I think we can put to rest that old chestnut...Teresa is a "brilliant businesswoman."

    And Tony's prediction that DEI will soon be a museum is getting closer to reality.

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  11. Life has many twists and turns in it, but Teresa has taken a Great Legacy left by a Great man and twisted it away from it's rightful aires,
    Dale Jr. Kelley, Kerry & Taylor....

    Dale Sr. built that Team for Dale Jr. and his brothers and sisters, not for Teresa !!!

    The snowball started rolling down hill long ago, when Teresa did things her way and wouldnt listen to those around her that knew NASCAR !!!
    Now we are left to watch a Great Team & Legacy be twisted and turned right into the ground !!!

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  12. Saw this coming a loooong time ago when at the end of the 2004 season she decided to switch Jr's and Waltrips Teams, equipment etc etc. then she ran off all of Dale Sr's hand picked men. I can imagine Dale Sr is shaking his head right now at what she and Dale Jr managed to do to his company. Yes, I do blame some of this on Dale Jr as well. His whining at the end of the 2004 season snowballed this whole thing into a family squabble which carried over to the entire company. Shame on all of them!

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  13. Well I for one think Jr is probobaly glad he got outta the train wrck known as DEI when he did. I doubt his Daddy's company will still be around in 2010.

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  14. It is great to see that the Man in Black can still get so much emotion out of a group of people almost 8 years after his death. The Intimidator will live for ever.

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  15. Its a shame that Theresa has run the company into the ground out of greed, I say this cause its more than obvious,she single-handidly tried to destroy the die-cast market because of this so-called "LEGACY SERIES" now some of his prized cars aren't worth a nickle due to her great business mind.

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  16. Bottom Line is that she let her relationship, or lack of, with Dale Jr. control her and cause her to make what will probably be one fo the worst business decisions in NASCAR..It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that you cannot let Jr. go, but she did. That's watching money walk out the door..and it's been down hill ever since..I use to think more of her, but its obvious that she is an idiot. Proves now that Dale Sr. was in fact the business man in that business...

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  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  18. Dale Jr. didn't want a piece of DEI, he wanted 51% controlling interest. Teresa has helped Big E build DEI from the ground up. If you are honest, you have to admit most of Jr's popularity comes from his last name rather than on track accomplishments. Little E tried to leverage that inherited poplarity and take the company away from Teresa. Short and simple she called his bluff. True, she is paying the price now as the company struggles. But I remember more than one occasion when Dale Sr. was willing to ball a car up going for the win rather than being intimidated into settling for second place. Once Jr. drew the battle lines there was no way Teresa could win the PR battle. Jr. nation thinks he is the greatest no matter how mediocre his on track performance or immature his off track antics. Say what you want about Teresa, but you have to remember that Dale Sr. loved Teresa and I think a lot of the treatment she has received from the fans has been unfair.

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  19. Jerry, it's a moot point. Earnhardt is not still here to run DEI.

    You could also ask how man championships Davey Allison would have won had he not been killed? Or, Alan Kulwicki.

    Earnhardt did not build DEI for his kids. Since he did not leave his half interest to them.

    Whatever Teresa has done to, or with, DEI is strictly her business as it is/was hers to do with whatever she wished.

    As far as the struggle for control of the company was concerned, that was nothing more than a ruse to make Jr.'s leaving appear to be Teresa's fault and not Jr.'s own decision.

    Jr's negotioations with Pepsico/Mountain Dew, according to an article published on NASCAR.COM in February of 2008, began in late 2006. Anyone who believes that the Deal with HMS & Pepsico was put together within a week of Jr's announcing his departure doesn't know very much about business. The entire "negotiation" thing between Jr. and DEI had only one outcome. Jr., along with his Sister, knew this from the get go. It was all to simply dis-credit Teresa Earnhardt and make her the villain.

    Finally, ronrude, you care nothing about Jr., Teresa or Dale Earnhardt. It's very obvious that you only care about the value of the toys you have.

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  20. Anonmyous above has the correct point. One thing left out was that little ol' spoiled Jr. commented that there was no place for "his" mother at DEI. Gimme a break. She left Dale Sr. Plus the fact that Kelly was sticking her nose where it didn't belong. She was probably one of the biggest reasons Teresa and Jr. couldn't work something out.
    Dale Sr. knew the score with Jr.

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  21. Anon 7:55 & 7:56 When you come down to pure facts your posts pretty much tell it all. Whithout Dale Sr., DEI will never amount to much.

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  22. I think if Sr. were alive today they company would be on a much different footing then it is now, but I don't think they would be a Hendrick, Roush, or Gibbs by any means.

    I think they would be something along the lines of RCR which is a great organization capable of fielding mutiple chase cars, but not a threat to win week in and week out. Still that is much better than the current situation. You'd still have Jr in the 8, Truex in the 1, and probabaly another decent driver in the 15, someone along the lines of a Jeff Burton or Bobby Labonte. I agree that Waltrip would have left, but probabaly he would have been let go at some point.

    Yes, his widow has run the company into the ground, and I feel sorry for everyone (several hundred employees and counting) involved in her poor decision making. If she had given Junior control of the company I can't help but think it would be in better shape sponsorship wise, but competitively probabaly the same, ie a few wins here and there.

    Either way, all we can do is appreciate the memories we have of the intimidator, and the early years of DEI

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  23. Teresa is in the same category as BLAGO, neither has a CLUE!!!

    You can add Brainless Brian France in with them!

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  24. Why does teresa get all the blame and max get the CREDIT for the other good things that have happened? Wake up people ! MAx has been running this ship from day one. Teresa has given him total control and let him run things the way he wanted to . How many sponsors has Max and JOhn brought in the two years they have been there? What about the sponsors they had? What about the sponsors they bought in to? All of them have left under Max's watch. They were so successful at DEI, now they opened up there own Marketing firm..Gimme a break..Good riddance to John and Max. We wont miss them now that they have run this place into the ground. You can blame the captain of the TITANTIC but he did not run into the iceberg..............

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  25. DEI and Ganassi merger just went from two struggling companies to form one really bad big one. If Martin and Juan were to leave after 2009, then they may as well shut the doors. However, I wouldn't blame them both deserve to drive competitive cars. I don't really understand what they are thinking over there.

    The biggest mistake was not giving Jr. the controlling interest. He would have attracted the sponsor's and talent the organization needed to be successful.

    John Andretti is the talent pool really that depleted?

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  26. why in the heck do people seem to think Junior should have got 51% of the company. What has he ever done besides have his last name to deserve it. SR's wife and the rest of the kids were entitled to just as much as Junior and his bitter sister. His dad won seven championships and he will quit with none driving some of the best equipment available. Hew's been very very fortunate.

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  27. Dale built DEI for Jr. Jr ran the Busch series under DEI and then moved up to the cup afterwards. Jr and Park were the 1st drivers. Jr had great success with Tony Sr as his crew chief but after Dales death Tony Sr was given a higher position at DEI and Jr got Tony Jr and sorry he maybe his cousin and thats who he wants BUT HE isn't his dad either.

    Jr would have never had to even think about leaving DEI if his dad were alive POINT BLANK and DEI would not be in the shape it is in.

    So many people bash Jr for wanting to BUY (he didn't ask it GIVEN to him) controlling interest. But when he could see how her and Max were destroying DEI he tried to do what he thought was the best for DEI. What child who has the money and the love of their dads business wouldn't try the same? She wanted a fortune for the 51%. SHE DID PUT A PRICE ON IT. She was willing to sell 51% but GREED stood in the way of a reasonable deal. DEI had a man running it that knows more about how to tune a piano than a car. Sure Theresa may have had keen business sense BUT not car sense herself. Dale Sr.was not a silent partner in DEI by no means.

    She got rid of so many of the top people her husband put in place and pushed most of his family members of his out all because she thought she is all that and more and most of all greedy.

    My husband never realized he had a hero until Dale died. He was getting gifts of Shirts and etc. for a couple of years until he finally put his foot down and said no more. He does not need all this carp she works so hard to keep selling to keep his memory alive as she says she is doing. Really does any of his fans need new stuff to remember him? It has become over the top like the never ending Princess DI and Elvis stuff still out there. Greedy people out trying to make a fortune off a dead person. It is starting to look cheap and trashy

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  28. As long as she has any control over DEI or what ever they what to call it these days I will never but another shirt, hat, or anything else from her. Dale Jr should be running DEI just like Sr planned.

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  29. I said the day he died that DEI would never be the same. Not just because we lost Dale but that she would get out of the "biz" I understand not going to the races and such because of all the emotions. Anyone who can’t get that needs to truly think about what kind of human they are. Now some people can come back to the track (Mr. Hendrick, Kyle Petty, Joe Nemechek) even though they had a loved one taken by the sport. What I can’t defend is the way she treated her drivers at the track and ultimately the way she treated Dale Jr. She knows in her heart what Dale built that company for. It was for "his" children. I could not sleep if I was her knowing that Dale Sr. could see what she did to his company or to "his" children. It is sickening that she would rather sell the company to a stranger rather than to family. I have a sneaky suspicion that Mrs. E was very jealous of Dale's life and children. Even though the #3 gave her more wealth than most of us can imagine. What a touching story it could have been if they fixed there broken bridge after Dale’s death, if she could have worked out something out for Jr. to own the team. She knows that’s what Dale would want; she knows that’s what a normal companionate family would have done. It’s not like Jr. wanted to put her on the street and make her drive a Chevy Geo. She would have made more than enough cash with the Legacy program. I said to a buddy of mine after Dale died “You watch in a few years DEI will only be a shrine and a museum”. I’m sorry I was right this time. I am not an Earnhardt fan. I am a fan of history and NASCAR and I promise you Mrs. E is reaping what she sowed. I don’t feel sorry for her one bit. I suspect she isn’t the kindest person and she is just getting back what she gave to people. I would love to see Jr. buy DEI and then have her Photo shopped out of every picture. See how that would make her feel. I also hope someday that Jr. and Mrs. E could patch things up, not just for them but out of their respect for “The Intimidator”. I did not realize how much I like Dale until he passed. I watched the race with my new wife. After the wreck I told her “Its really bad” she said no nothing came off the car and it didn’t flip or anything. I said “That’s how you know it’s bad” that was another time I wished I hadn’t been right.

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  30. I think Teresa did not so much run DEI into the ground as sit pat and watch the rest of the teams pass it by. DEI was still a force the first couple of years after Ironhead's passing since what he had put in place or in process was still competitive.
    I think it is important to note that several times Dale, Jr. spoke up to defend Teresa when the media was criticizing her so much. It does amaze me that Teresa gets criticized for not doing interviews, but Roger Penske is never criticized for being almost as unavailable.

    Jerry, keep up the good work. There are a whole lot of us out here who really miss you and Bob Margolis.

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  31. Nobody really knows her side of the story. I think all the fans should show some respect for the wife of the 7 time champ.

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  32. Tricia in CA, an Earnhardt fan foreverJanuary 30, 2009 at 10:21 PM

    If I had watched the man I loved crash and die in a racecar, I wouldn't want to go to a racetrack ever again, either. Teresa gets way too much blame for things and not enough credit for what she did building the company. She was a big part of it's success when Dale was alive, but because he was so much the face of the company, she couldn't compensate for his loss. It's sad to see the company Dale and Teresa built go down this way, but other companies are faltering, too. Dale did not build the company for his kids alone - he built it for the entire family, and that includes Teresa. If he had wanted the kids to have a say in it, he would have put their names on the incorporation paperwork, or at least given them part ownership in his will. Dale had a lot of love and respect for this woman, and Junior and Kelley defend her, so who are we to criticize her?

    BTW, I don't blame all you people who signed yourself "Anonymous". I'd be ashamed to let people know I was that illiterate and intolerant, too.

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  33. Hey Tricia in CA,
    The reason he didn't leave DEI to Jr. and the rest of those illegitimate kids is because he was an ignorant 8th grade dropout who trusted his barely high school diploma earning wife. Let's face it. He was PWT and she wasn't much better except for the fact that she knew how to make a buck. She took him like Grant took Richmond! Once PWT always PWT! Can't change a zebras stripes and you can't polish a turd!

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  34. Yeah, it is really sad what happened to it. And I too don't understand why Theresa refused to sell to family (ie, Jr) but was willing to sellout twice two strangers (Ginn and Ganassi), other than her having hostility towards him. And having 49% of something of value is better than 100% of nothing.

    I feel stupid saying this, but this whole question has been weighing heavily on my the last few years. I think about this a lot. That and the gut cringing Sr commemerative type pieces they keep putting out (Dale and the Duke, Dale and Elvis, fantasy scheme this, that and something else, etc). I bet Earnhardt would be rolling in his grave seeing diecasts with all the class of a commemerative Elvis collector plate series. Jr wasn't wanting a part of that, just DEI.

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  35. Bottom line folks, just as Anon 1-30-09 8:58 stated, it was Dale Sr.'s ex and Jr.and Kelly's mother who wanted in on the action and Kelly as we all know runs Jr's life. If the discussions had been just between Jr and Theresa things may have worked out, only she knew what Sr. wanted for Jr. In my opinion they have now all lost, bascially because three women could not get along.

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  36. i wish anonymous people would post at least a name. i cant tell who is who

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  37. I couldn't have said it better, NASCAR Nation. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  38. This wouldn't be happening, nuff said. If DEI merged with anyone it'd been RCR, likely by last year, and they'd be darn tough to beat. But it didn't, so I agree with the fact NASCAR needs to move on. Hard to do with Teresa inventing a new Dale Earnhardt marketing campaign every year though.

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  39. Hey Anon...it's heirs not aires

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  40. Lets not say that dei would never be a Hendricks or Gibbs racing team, for the day that sr. Died two dei cars would finish first and second in the 500!!! Who cares what has happened since then and remember what the intimidator done just before he died!!! Long live the number 3!!!!!

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