According to both jayski.com and Sirius NASCAR Radio's Sirius Speedway, Teresa Earnhardt could be looking to sell Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Rather than sell a controlling interest, like Dale Earnhardt Jr. wanted her to do last year, Teresa is reportedly looking to sell the entire team.
Cars, employees, shops ... the whole damn thing.
The company is rumored to sell for between $115 and 130 million, and DEI President of Global Operations Max Siegel is apparently one of the interested buyers. Siegel is reportedly in talks with investment firm J.P. Morgan to acquire the team. If the reports are true, Teresa would no longer have anything to do with her late husband's company.
All Teresa will have left will be the likeness and merchandising rights for her husband's name and image. According to reports, Teresa has become frustrated and disenfranchised with NASCAR following her company's public and messy divorce with Dale Earnhardt Jr. last season, a fiasco that led Junior to leave the company and drive for Hendrick Motorsports.
Junior is second in points this season with his first checkered flag in over two years, while DEI is struggling both on and off the race track. Sponsorship is an issue, Mark Martin has already announced he won't return in 2009 and Martin Truex Jr., lounging about 14th in points, might not be back either.
I've already written in this space about what kind of trouble DEI is in, between losing Junior last year and the myriad of problems facing the company this season. This report, if true, only reinforces those problems and leaves the company with yet another significant change. If Truex does indeed leave at the end of the season, whoever winds up owning the company will enter 2009 with Aric Almirola, Regan Smith and Paul Menard (though rumors persist Menard won't return, either).
Something tells me this isn't what the Intimidator had in mind when he founded DEI.
While part of me can't really blame Teresa for wanting out, the fact is ... she kind of brought this upon herself. Already an absentee owner (so much so Kevin Harvick called her out for it last year), her frosty relationship with the Sprint Cup Series' most popular driver did no one at the company any favors, and everything she's done since taking the reigns at DEI has been centered around the bottom line.
Her husband's legacy -- which was what DEI was founded to preserve -- be damned.
The fact that she would still be able to profit off Dale Earnhardt merchandise sales points to that. By the letter of the law, she was the rightful heir to DEI; it was in Senior's will, which hadn't been updated since 1990. But Senior made it clear in numerous interviews over the years that DEI was meant to be left for his children -- specifically Junior.
That Teresa never once intended to honor those wishes -- or even field a competitive organization -- speaks to how little she cares about the Earnhardt name and how little business she has being in NASCAR.
If the sale goes through, I kind of hope Siegel changes the company name and starts over from scratch. The drivers and other employees at DEI deserve better than what they've been given, and as tragic as it would be to see Earnhardt's legacy done away with, it's better than watching it wither away week in and week out while Teresa rakes in millions.
I just wonder what Senior would say if he could see any of this.
UPDATE #1: ESPN.com's Marty Smith has reported that Max Siegel has denied the report, saying, "We have not engaged Bear, Stearns or Goldman Sachs or anyone else. We are contacted all the time by outside firms about getting involved in the sport. We are not for sale right now. Nothing is imminent."
The denial isn't surprising, nor does it mean anything. Denials are part of the public relations game, and DEI has spent virtually all season trying to put a positive spin on the team's situation. So unless and until the official announcement comes, I believe the denial about as much as I believe Alex Rodriguez never cheated on his wife.
UPDATE #2: Martin Truex Jr. has been docked 150 points for rules infractions from Daytona this past weekend. The penalty drops Truex from 14th to 18th in points, 238 out of 12th with eight races until the Chase. No driver has ever qualified for the Chase after overcoming this large a deficit this late in the season, so according to history, Truex's chances at back-to-back Chase appearances are done.
The car was deemed to be 1/16th of an inch too narrow, not fitting NASCAR-issue templates. DEI officials publicly wonder why the car fit the templates all year until now, and have 10 days to decide whether to appeal the penalty.
Crew chief Kevin Manion, as well as car chief Gary Putman, has been suspended for six races. Manion has also been fined $100,000.
Teresa Earnhardt, owner of Truex's No. 1 car, has also been docked 150 owner points.
All in all, not a good day for DEI. The Truex penalties were expected (NASCAR has been consistent in punishing rules violators with the new car -- last year, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were all slapped with similar penalties, and this year the HAAS-CNC teams were busted in Charlotte), but the sale rumors can't help.
And if Truex was already leaning out the door at DEI, these penalties might be that final push. Truex was visibly frustrated in interviews on Thursday at the track, and you could hear it in his voice, even if he wouldn't publicly throw anyone on his team under the bus.