Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reports: No. 8 Car Thing of the Past

According to a report published Tuesday night by's David Newton, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will park the No. 8 car driven this season by Aric Almirola due to a lack of sponsorship. If true, that leaves EGR with just two cars -- the No. 1 of Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 42 of Juan Pablo Montoya.

Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing merged in the offseason in part to prevent this sort of move, but the continuing decline in the economy, coupled with the decline in Almirola's performance (he sits 37th in owner points after Sunday's race at Texas), made such a move practically inevitable.

So a car that as recently as five or six years ago was one of the top rides in the series is no more. The No. 8 car had been emblematic of DEI's struggles the last couple years, practicularly once Dale Earnhardt Jr. left the company to join Hendrick Motorsports before the start of last season. Mark Martin did all he could in splitting time with Almirola last season, but that car -- and in actuality, the entire company -- just couldn't keep up with the Hendricks and Jack Roushes and Joe Gibbs of the world anymore.

Why is that? Teresa Earnhardt has a lot to do with it.

The late Dale Earnhardt's widow, Teresa was trusted to keep the company and her husband's legacy intact. His legacy is practically untouchable (and it's still profitable, which she probably loves), but Teresa's dealings have taken a once-strong and proud Sprint Cup organization and turned it into an also-ran that had to merge with another also-ran to stay afloat.

Even the merger couldn't save the organization's most famous car.

There's a chance the No. 8 could return later this season if sponsorship is found, but for now, the ride is dead. Almirola is still under contract with EGR, but he could be released to find another ride. There aren't many rides left out there, but if I'm running EGR, I owe him the courtesy of letting him look.

Reports have also surfaced that Truex had a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave EGR if at any point he didn't have two full-time teammates -- reports that fueled a rumor Truex would replace 18-year-old rookie Joey Logano in the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing. From what I've read and heard, though, those reports are false.

Still, what does this say about EGR? Truex and Montoya appear to be safe -- Bass Pro Shops in 100 percent behind Truex, and Montoya will be fine, since Target and Ganassi are joined at the hip. So watching the team fold completely is a slim possibility.

Even if there are fans out there who wish it would.

Make no mistake: Junior's exodus to Hendrick was not a popular move. The fans went with him, no question, but the public relations hit Teresa and her company took for letting the sport's most popular driver go surely didn't help matters. Money is incredibly tight right now, everyone gets that, but I can't help but think a lot of potential sponsors looked at that No. 8 and thought to themselves, "Hey, didn't Junior used to drive that car ...?"

Junior is a sponsor's dream. Almirola? Not so much. That's no slight against Almirola, who is a fine racing talent; that's just the way the game works in the Sprint Cup Series, especially with sponsorship dollars so hard to come by.

You could consider the shuttering of the No. 8 team a bit of karma, the racing gods lashing out at Teresa for not bringing Junior back to the company. DEI just wasn't the same without a true Earnhardt there, a sentiment that would be true even if Junior had won 16 races and a championship with Hendrick already.

Junior won 17 of his 18 career Cup races and both of his Nationwide Series championships with DEI. He won the Daytona 500 in the No. 8 car. He finished fifth and third in the points in the No. 8 car. He won a career-high six races in 2004 -- in the No. 8 car. Though marketing numbers might point otherwise, the No. 8 will always be Junior's identity, and it feels right that the team wouldn't exist without him.

Could Hendrick buy the number from EGR (Ganassi is listed as owner of the No. 8)? It's possible, but not probable, given how much time and money he poured into making the No. 88 a household commodity. It's more likely Ganassi moves the number to either Truex or Montoya (which is also unlikely ... the No. 1 and No. 42 are intertwined with those drivers).

But perhaps the most likely scenario (and even this is a bit of a stretch) would see Junior himself buy the number for use should he ever decide to move his JR Motorsports team to the Sprint Cup Series. Even if Junior doesn't drive the new No. 8 car, if he owns it, the fans might feel like there's some right in the NASCAR world again.

Still, that's a longshot. There's no guarantee Junior would elevate his team to the Cup Series.

In the meantime, though, it's a day to either mourn the loss of what could've been a historic ride or celebrate the backlash resulting from Teresa's arrogance and lack of NASCAR business sense. Because make no mistake ... even though Ganassi owns the No. 8, its death rests squarely at Teresa's feet.

Right where it should be.

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