Thursday, May 10, 2007

Dale Earnhardt Junior Leaving DEI

Junior leaving DEI: I was trying to think of an appropriate analogy among the other major sports, so non-NASCAR fans might appreciate the hugeness of this situation.

Here's the criteria: (1) Most popular athlete in the sport. (2) Leaving a team synonymous with his identity (if not his name). (3) Becoming a free agent and definitively moving on to a new team.

Is it overstatement to say it would be like Michael Jordan leaving the Bulls in 1996, like Cal Ripken leaving the Orioles in 1991 or like Brett Favre leaving the Packers in 1997? I suppose the closest thing is Wayne Gretzky leaving the Oilers for Los Angeles.

But given that those players left team sports – and that NASCAR is inherently a sport of individual stars – this is arguably even bigger than if the situation involved those names listed above.

Again: You don't have to be a NASCAR fan to understand how big this is.

-- D.S.

(Can you believe it: A late-afternoon post about NASCAR?)


marcomarco said...


Maybe if they made some right-hand turns it would be interesting.

TJ said...

I would argue that its nature as a sport with individual stars makes it much less important than if MJ had left the Bulls or Jeter had left the Yankees. Fans won't care what "team" Jr. is driving for--they root for Jr., not for DEI--whereas MJ and Jeter fans mostly are rooting for the Bulls and the Yankees.

Now if Jr. left for a team that uses Ford, then fans might get a bit shaken up that Jr. isn't in a Chevy anymore. Personally, I think it would be cool--and fans would freak out completely (in a good way)--if he went to Hendrick and drove the 3 car. I don't know if that's possible, but it would be cool.

Kevin said...

But given that those players left team sports – and that NASCAR is inherently a sport of individual stars – this is arguably even bigger than if the situation involved those names listed above.

How the hell does that make any sense? Because it's an individual sport, people don't care what team anyone drives for - they aren't DEI fans, they're Dale Jr. fans. This is much smaller news for exactly that reason.

(Troy beat me to it, but it's the same basic point.)

Geoff said...

It is huge in that the most popular driver in the sport is leaving his dad's team because he doesn't think he can compete for a title with them. On top of that his ride for next season is undetermined. So for months there will be speculation about where he will end up. The teams he can actually easily fit into are pretty limited because he stated he wants to stay in a Chevy. Your top Chevy teams in no order are Richard Childress Racing (the team his dad drove for), Hendrick (Which doesn't have a seat available at the moment) and Joe Gibbs Racing.

He can't go to Hendrick and drive the #3 because RCR owns it. He could go to RCR and drive the #3 and that actually makes a lot of sense. Budweiser will certainly follow him anywhere he goes so there won't be sponsor problems. I dunno, I find it pretty fascinating that his step-mother wouldn't pony up the share of the team required to keep him there. She is screwed.

And Marco, they do make right-hand turns... they race road courses twice a year. But really if all it takes is right hand turns to make things interesting for you than you might try following CART or Formula-1. Or just drive around your block clockwise a few times.

Natsfan74 said...

If Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordan changed teams, that wouldn't be big news. Junior is leaving Dale Earnhardt, Inc. That's huge.

I guess the sports equivalent would really be if MJ switched to wearing Reebok but Nike kept ownership of the "Air Jordan" brand. MJ wouldn't be able to market teh "Air" brand, because Nike owned it. But Nike wouldn't really have the capital it had when MJ was in the fold.

This will drive DEI, the company his father founded, out of racing.

Luke Bell said...

This is only huge if you give two shits about racing. I don't.

Wake me up when Junior stops appearing in commercials in which he has to sing.

1999 Officers said...

It would be akin to Tiger Woods switching from Nike to Reebok for apparel and swtiching from Nike to Ping for clubs and then switching from the PGA to only playing in Europe.

Suss said...

Robert Johnson selling the Bobcats

TJ said...

@ geoff. Yes, Childress, not Hendrick. I kind of... don't follow NASCAR much anymore. Can ya tell?

Still, I think this is a huge story, but not for any sport/competitive reasons. It's huge in that the son and the widow have this rift, and are now splitting. But as far as the fans following the races, this has pretty much no effect. Kevin made this point more clearly.

Matt T said...

This is a move he has to make if he wants to win a championship.

DEI isn't putting out cars as strong as everyone else, and he doesn't have as strong teammates.

Gordon has benefitted from Jimmie Johnson and vice versa.

He'd be a great fit at RCR and could even drive the 3, he's said he wants to at some time in his career. He'd have some good teammates too.

It will be interesting to see how it effects him the rest of the year.

And thanks Dan for making this a seperate post.

RT said...

Those players also won championships and had ties to cities. No one cares when owners lose players. This isn't that big a deal to a sports fan unless you care about him changing numbers.

Richard K. said...

I'm sure there's a crying Redneck somewhere.

Travis said...

you want an appropriate analogy?

Babe Ruth leaving the Yankees and going to the Boston Braves... and like Dale Jr. It was more like being forced out by unappreciating ownership.

Michael said...

I like the analogy of tiger changing balls, clubs, sponsors etc...You would still follow Tiger and pull for him but you would still acknowledge there was a change. This is a big situation because it does give a new identity to one of the poster boys of the circuit. I would assume that if Jr. went to hendricks he would lose fans who can't stand Johnson or Gordon. If you don't know NASCAR there is a line with those two and either you like them or you don't there is no in between (think Damon to Yankees sort of situation). I couldn't imagine that could happen without people getting off the Jr. camp for that reason. I liked the idea of Jr. Mortorsports but if he wants to guarantee a competitive car he would be best with Hendricks or at least buying Hendricks Motors (which was another rumor flying around that is probably unfounded.)

Travis said...

I still think its possible and probably likely he will drive hendrick supplied cars for his own team.

The deal probably wasnt finalized which is why its not been announced.

Unknown said...


TJ said...

I think the best analogy came from one of the NASCAR analysts on ESPN: George Steinbrenner selling the Yankees and buying the Red Sox.

Or rather I think, maybe more like Steinbrenner buying the Cubs, or Dodgers, or some other (huge) team, but not necessarily the big rivals. Almost all the fans rooting for the team on the field wouldn't really care, but it would be a huge huge news story, similar to the Jr. business.

Unknown said...

None of those analogies work because they involve MAJOR sports. NASCAR isn't there. So no, its not like Steinbrenner selling the Yankees.

NASCAR fans care about Junior. Not DEI. Want an analogy that works?
AI leaving Philly for Denver to get more money and better teammates, but mostly a better chance at winning.

That's all it is.

Or like me switching from Chocolate ice cream Klondike Bars to Cinnamon ice cream Blizzards. It's a bit of a shocker, but I think I come out better for it in the end.

Clinton (Indianapolis) said...

I have to concur with the yawns of indifference. I only watch two races per year, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. This was after attempting to follow an entire NASCAR season that is entirely too long.