Column: Dale Jr. certainly showed more class

Published 6:28 am Wednesday, January 10, 2007

By Staff
There are days when you stumble upon a great story.
Such was the case on Monday afternoon when I decided to take part in the NASCAR teleconference from Daytona, Fla.
I received notice of the teleconference and thought I would join in because Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick were scheduled to participate.
As drivers go, they are three of my favorite.
I was originally a Dale Earnhardt fan, so I switched to Dale Jr. when Dale died. I also followed the career of Harvick because he replaced Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing. I had the chance to personally interview Kahne and have been impressed with how he handles himself.
Harvick and Kahne were the first to join the teleconference, which started about 45 minutes late due to the first testing session of 2007 being delayed by rain.
Harvick and Kahne talked about the new season and the challenges they faced heading into this year. The two spoke briefly to the media assembled and fielded a couple of questions from those listening on the telephone.
Then came Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After a brief statement, the media jumped quickly on the story, which has been brewing for the past few weeks.
Like sharks smelling blood, the first question asked was about the comments stepmother Teresa Earnhardt made about one of NASCAR's biggest stars.
In an interview, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 14, Teresa Earnhardt, owner of Dale Earnhardt Inc., questioned Dale Jr.'s dedication to the sport. To paraphrase what she said, "the ball is in his court, he has to decide whether he is a celebrity or a race car driver."
The national media jumped on the story. They quickly sided with Dale Jr., questioning Teresa's dedication to the team. Among some of the things that were said about her was that she rarely comes to the track.
One barb tossed her way said that she has been to five races in five years. So who has a dedication problem?
To his credit, Dale Jr. hadn't commented on the story in the press. He certainly showed more class than Teresa did.
But on Monday Dale Jr. had no choice but to respond. There were only a few questions about racing. The rest of them were about his relationship with his stepmother, the progress of his contract negotiations and her comments in the Wall Street Journal.
He tried to be tactful with his comments, but it was easy to read between the lines.
His opening comments to the opening question fired a shot across Teresa's bow. He said that being a celebrity and a racer go hand-in-hand. He said that most everyone understood that. Many owners embrace it. He also said that the media understood how tough it was to separate the two because they were at the track all the time with the drivers.
Hear that Teresa. They are there all the time and they understand what is really going on.
To a question later in the session, which lasted nearly a half an hour, Earnhardt said that he hadn't spoken to Teresa about her comments. He said that if there was anything to be said, she would have picked up the phone and called.
Translation, they are not speaking to each other.
But the most telling comments came when he said that their relationship hadn't changed since he was six years old and he moved in with his late father and Teresa.
To me, that means they never really have gotten along.
Maybe I am misreading his comments. Maybe there relationship is fine.
But since she owns the company and he is in the middle of a contract negotiation, I would be worried that their relationship may drive him to another team.
I can't really picture Dale Jr. driving for a different company. After all, he is an Earnhardt and the company bears his name. I really can't imagine him driving something other than the No. 8 Budweiser Chevy.
I am sure in a worst-case scenario that Budweiser would follow Earnhardt to whatever team he would end up at.
If he were to leave DEI, the teams would line up for his services. In that scenario, I would think he would end up with Richard Childress Racing, where his dad had tremendous success. He might even climb into the No. 3 that his father made legendary.
But we are a long way from that situation. DEI has until June to get a deal done exclusively. After that, Earnhardt Jr. is free to talk with other teams.
I have said this before, I am not sure if Dale Jr. will ever win a championship at DEI. He would have if his father were still alive, but the way things are now, I don't think it will happen.
I would love to see him win a title for DEI. But in light of the recent developments, I am not going to hold my breath.