Chip Ganassi explains why ‘Earnhardt’ is no longer part of team name

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the first time since 1996, there will not be a team in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series with “Earnhardt” in its corporate name.

The string began in 1996 when the late Dale Earnhardt formed Dale Earnhardt Inc. In less than a decade, it had become one of the premier teams in Cup competition, with son and namesake Dale Earnhardt Jr. as its on-track figurehead.

During his tenure with DEI, Junior earned 17 of his 19 career Cup victories, including a season-high six wins in 2004, beginning with an emotional victory in the season-opening Daytona 500.

But once Junior left DEI for Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, the once-feared company began by the man they called The Intimidator began to slowly disappear.

Now, the Earnhardt corporate name is essentially extinct.

After an ill-fated and short-lived merger with Ginn Racing in mid-2007, team owner Teresa Earnhardt lent her company’s name and some of its assets to fellow team owner Chip Ganassi, forming Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in 2009.

In the year before Junior left the family fold, Earnhardt’s widow also lent her late husband’s surname to Richard Childress Racing to form a new business – known as Earnhardt-Childress Racing Technology – designed to build motors for both RCR and other teams that would lease the engines.

But as the Earnhardt name lived on with other teams, Teresa Earnhardt withdrew more and more from being active in racing. She continued to oversee the still-thriving souvenir business that memorialized her late husband and kept his name and legend alive, but that was about it.

Now in 2014, in the same year that Austin Dillon has brought back Earnhardt’s fabled No. 3 for the first time since Dale was killed in the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, what was Earnhardt Ganassi Racing for the last five seasons has reverted back to its original name prior to joining forces with Earnhardt, namely Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

And what was Earnhardt-Childress Racing Technology has quietly become simply ECR, with a team source telling MotorSportsTalk that “the E no longer stands for anything. It doesn’t stand for Earnhardt. It’s just ECR now.”

Ganassi spoke to MotorSportsTalk at Daytona International Speedway on Friday about how the relationship with Teresa Earnhardt essentially disappeared with time, to the point where it no longer made sense to keep her late husband’s surname as part of the team.

“I wish I could explain it but I can’t explain it,” Ganassi said. “I don’t have a good answer for you. We had a relationship and I don’t know what happened. We can’t get her on the phone; it’s hard to try to communicate with somebody. She obviously has some other things on her plate, I guess, and that’s her prerogative.

“She was never active in the team. I think she wanted to keep the name out there to some extent, and I don’t know what Richard’s (Childress) relationship is there (Earnhardt), but it’s kinda the same thing.

“There’s no ill will, I just don’t have an answer, to tell you the truth. She just wasn’t there anymore.”

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F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.