Formed in 1980 by the late racing legend Dale Earnhardt and his wife, Teresa, Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI) currently includes four Sprint Cup teams. While DEI has enjoyed Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series success - winning two championships in each series, respectively - DEI has not won a Sprint Cup Series championship.
The 2008 driver roster includes Rookie of the Year contender Regan Smith, Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Menard. The team consists of two drivers, newcomer Aric Almirola and veteran Mark Martin. Even though DEI has nearly 30 years of racing experience and a stable of veteran and rookie drivers, the organization is not racing to their full potential this season. In the first five races, only Truex has an average finish of 15th; the remaining drivers have average finishes ranging from 17th to 33rd. The exception is Almirola, whose first race of the season came at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago.
Table: Race Results and Overall Average Finish (2008)
Truex is a proven winner, who won consecutive Nationwide Series championships in 2004 and 2005. He is coming off his best career in the Sprint Cup Series last season, where he picked up his first win and finished 11th overall after making the Chase for the first time. Truex has an average finish of 13 through the first five races this season, which is a drastic improvement when compared to his first two full-time seasons in 2007 (26.5) and 2006 (21.6). Currently 187 points behind the leader Kyle Busch, fantasy players should give Truex some attention. He's the best of the DEI drivers and should be considered a solid fantasy option in the coming weeks.
In 2008, the No. 8 car will field two drivers. The veteran Martin, who has over 700 starts in the Sprint Cup Series, and the Rookie Almirola, who is scheduled to drive in 12 Cup races this season. Martin, who has garnered almost every accolade in Sprint Cup racing, except for winning a Cup championship, brings his passion for racing and his experience not only to the track but to Almirola as his mentor. While he only has one top-10 finish this season, Martin has been a Chase contender in virtually every one of his 25 years in the Cup circuit. Martin is a solid fantasy pick on almost all track types when he's making a start this season.
Almirola is scheduled to run 11 more races for the No. 8 team and proved that he's a fantasy risk that might pay off. His eighth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway could be a sign of good things to come for Almirola, who currently has only seven career starts under his belt. However, fantasy owners might want to curb their enthusiasm a little in the coming weeks. His eighth-place finish was encouraging, but prior to Bristol his best finish was 26th, which came at Phoenix International Raceway last season. While Almirola could have similar success in the coming weeks, his lack of experience makes him a high risk.
Menard has had his share of issues this season. Through the first five races, he has an average finish of 24.4 with his best finish coming at Atlanta Motor Speedway (19th). Menard, who is in his sophomore season with DEI on the Sprint Cup circuit, has managed one top-10 finish and five laps led in 44 career Cup starts. He has some resources that could help to turn around his slow start, such as a successful crew chief in Doug Randolph, as well as teammates Truex and Martin. One thing he has going for him is that he has only two DNFs over his last 35 starts. However, fantasy owners should consider Menard only as a last resort.
Smith, who's a Rookie of the Year contender, has an impressive racing resume that includes 20 years of racing experience. Smith began racing go-karts at the age of four, and he claimed the Allison Legacy Series (ALS) Championship along with Rookie of the Year honors that same year in 2001. As Smith adjusts to full-time Sprint Cup racing, he has the potential to be a serious contender. However, he needs to get a few more races under his belt. Smith has only 12 starts in the Cup Series over the last two seasons and has failed to register a top-10 finish while leading only one lap during that time. Smith currently sits outside the top 35 in owner points (39th) and will have to qualify on time if he is to continue to get more experience behind the wheel. Smith is not an ideal pick for fantasy play.
About Whitney Bates
Bates has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.
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