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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Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”