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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Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.