Owner - Teresa Earnhardt
Manufacturer - Chevrolet
Cars and Drivers
No. 1 Bass Pro Shops
The defection of the sacred son of the team's namesake was a fairly ugly affair, but that soap opera last season largely overshadowed the development of the team's best driver: Martin Truex Jr. The sole driver of the No. 1 car was the only Dale Earnhardt Inc. member to make the Chase for the Cup, and he finished 11th in the final points standings. He also earned his first career pole and first career victory. The 27-year-old enters his third full season and returns as the lead driver for a team looking to reclaim its stake in the industry.
In the offseason DEI gave crew chief Kevin Manion, who also guided Truex to two NASCAR Busch Series titles, a three-year extension. For what it's worth, Mark Kennerly, the rear tire carrier for the No. 1's pit crew, was named the 2007 Pit Performer of the Year for 2007. Continuity, hard work and dedication should help Truex continue to reach his potential, as long as he can handle the pressure.
No. 8 U.S. Army
For better or worse, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won't be sitting in the driver's seat of the No. 8 car, formerly sponsored by Budweiser, any longer. Instead, Mark Martin will take the wheel. This season, he again plans to run 26 races, including two non-points events. The 49-year-old finished 27th in the points standings last year. Aric Almirola, 23, enters his rookie season after having raced six times last year as the replacement for Regan Smith in the No. 01 car. He's set to steer the U.S. Army vehicle for the remaining 12 races and study under Martin.
When testing began, Martin said that he looked forward to working with crew chief Tony Gibson, who has been with Dale Earnhardt Inc. since 2002. They seem to be establishing chemistry, but it remains to be seen how much Gibson can continue to help develop Almirola, who has had trouble finishing races in his short career.
No. 01 Steak-umm/Principal Financial Services
Martin and Smith raced this car for the majority of 2007. A DEI merger with Ginn Racing brought Martin and Almirola to the stable; Smith ended up in only one other Cup race after that. That didn't seem to bode well for his future. However, the 24-year-old enters what will be his rookie season as a fulltime driver. That's quite a vote of confidence and seemingly a testament to management's belief in him. Smith won't have to qualify for the first five races of the season, either.
Smith's crew chief, Doug Richert, will be with his third team in three years and is replacing Ryan Pemberton. Keep in mind that Richert has a veteran crew and experience working with young drivers. He also remains the youngest crew chief to ever win a Cup title. Smith is considered a rookie of the year candidate, and Richert believes he can help the youngster get there.
No. 15 Menard's
Paul Menard, 27, enters his second full season after a 30-race rookie year. He had the opportunity to leave in the offseason, but he decided to stick with DEI. That may pay dividends. With the Ginn deal last year, he has already been the beneficiary of additional owner points, which have guaranteed him a spot in each of the first five races of the season.
Menard admits that he and his new crew chief, Doug Randolph, are still getting acquainted. The two could be in for a bumpy year, but more stability at DEI should benefit them in the long run, if not this year.
Equipment and Resources
The loss of NASCAR's most popular driver may seem like a big blow, and the company took a lot of heat for it. In the end, though, the split of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and DEI might prove to be the best thing for both parties. First and foremost, it forced DEI to learn to rely on something other than Junior's appeal for its marketing programs and focus on what would make DEI a successful racing team. After Earnhardt left, DEI completed negotiations to absorb Ginn Racing, which essentially added a very experienced driver (Martin), a promising driver (Almirola) and a fourth car (No. 01) to the stable.
The deal also included Ginn's larger facilities and advanced equipment, which gives DEI a huge boost in the development department. Of particular importance is the acquisition of a seven-post shaker rig, which simulates suspension setups. It's widely accepted that success in the Car of Tomorrow, the exclusive car of 2008, is more dependent upon engineering. The rig allows for extensive preparation, which has become essential because pre-race and in-race adjustments appear to be going the way of the dirt track. DEI's research and development team grew exponentially, which should benefit all of the team's racers, even if it doesn't pay immediate dividends.
Questions still remain about DEI's equipment, though. Earnhardt registered nine DNFs for DEI in 36 races last year. Menard's success is largely said to be tied to the improvement of his inferior equipment. However, last year, Richard Childress Racing's engine program joined forces with DEI's, and Dale Earnhardt Inc. also conducted extensive trials in the offseason. Members of the team seemed happy with their results at Daytona 500 testing. Martin turned in top-10 lap times, while Smith and Regan each turned in top-three speeds on one of the testing days.
The U.S. Army sponsorship transferred to the No. 8 car for this season. DEI also recently struck sponsorship deals with Cub Cadet, Steak-umm and Principal Financial. Steak-umm will become the primary sponsor of the No. 01 car in May, and Principal Financial will also be a prominent sponsor for Smith.
Like many facets of NASCAR, change was a major theme for DEI, but the company seems to be headed in the right direction. It has a bright young star in Truex, their only certain fantasy commodity. With the highly respected Martin, another fantasy contributor, and a few possible up-and-comers, along with an array of new resources, DEI can become a force again. Exactly how soon remains to be seen.
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.