Commentary

Re-signing of Truex critical to future health of Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Should Martin Truex Jr. re-sign with Dale Earnhardt Inc. or should he test the free-agent market? One thing is certain: If he leaves his current employer, DEI is in big trouble, writes Marty Smith.

Updated: June 18, 2008, 11:45 AM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Well, folks, Rick Reilly has arrived at ESPN.com. Aside from The Sports Guy, the rest of us can go on and pack our bags. We are officially irrelevant.

Marty,

I'm a huge, and very frustrated, Martin Truex Jr. fan. What are your thoughts on Martin as a driver? I don't think he's getting the equipment he needs to win. DEI needs to give him better cars so he can show his talent and run better and win. He's as good as anyone out there, Marty. If he was in Jimmie Johnson's car he'd be a champion, too.

-- Matthew Fitzgerald, Long Beach Island, N.J.

Truex is supremely talented, Matthew. In fact, I consider him the most underrated driver in the sport right now, with a smooth, calculated style that's easy on equipment and cautiously aggressive. He's a lot like my man Davey Allison was, both in talent and demeanor. (Note to Sammy from Tallapoosa, Ala., who invariably gives me lip for writing about Allison: Get over it, dude. I'll be writing about Davey for the rest of my career.)

[+] EnlargeMartin Truex Jr
AP Photo/Russ HamiltonWith four top-10s in 2008, Martin Truex Jr. is sitting 16th in the Cup driver standings.

I disagree, though, that Truex's equipment is inferior. It's good equipment. That's not to say DEI isn't behind Gibbs, Roush and Hendrick, however, because it is. Most teams are. DEI simply doesn't have the budget to research and develop new pieces and parts and technologies and strategies the way those teams do.

DEI isn't alone in that regard, either. And the rich are only getting richer.

It's not easy. NASCAR is a big-picture equation. Studying a single variable rarely offers a means to an end. Looking solely at DEI for answers won't produce many -- if any. The big question is: Would Truex be better at, say, Penske?

Maybe. It's impossible to know. He has great chemistry with crew chief Kevin Manion right where he is. That's a huge variable to anyone's progress. He also has solid sponsorship backing at DEI. That's huge, too.

One thing is certain: It is imperative that DEI re-sign Truex. He is crucial to the future stability of the company. If he leaves, it's big trouble.

And don't forget, one major reason he's there now is his allegiance to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Hey Marty,

What do you think of Red Bull Racing's chances to be a successful team in the near or far future with Brian Vickers, A.J. Allmendinger and Scott Speed? I mean, those cars are sick and they need to win to get some air time.

-- Greg, Pottsville, Pa.

I'm thoroughly impressed with Team Red Bull, Greg, to say the least. When Red Bull first hit the racetrack in 2007, it was hard to get a read on the team. I felt like Vickers had lost his mind for leaving Hendrick Motorsports for a start-up, and I didn't know A.J. Allmendinger from Adam.

Several variables have improved the organization this year, but the most glaring difference is Jay Frye. Frye, the former GM of MB2 Motorsports (then Ginn Racing before that debacle fell apart), has infused Red Bull with a NASCAR racer's commonsense mentality that wasn't there before his arrival. Frye's experience in doing more with less has been critical.

"It always starts from the top down, but there's been a lot of other people," Vickers said. "[Frye] has been a large part of it, but I don't want to give him all the credit. There's a lot of people that have come on board and a lot of great people that are still there from last year that just have not been able do what they wanted to do.

Door-To-Door
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"Or, maybe it just wasn't the right time or place or maybe they didn't have the right guidance for leadership from the top. The people that are there are stronger and, as a team, we've definitely stepped it up on the engines. I still feel like we have a little ways to go."

The Sheriff Brian Lee Vickers, to me, continues to be the surprise of the season. He told me from the outset that the move to Red Bull would be a work in progress, that it unquestionably was the right move for his career and that once the team got the program in order and the proper people in place, it'd be nasty.

That all sounds peachy, but it's dang difficult to produce. Yet here he is, not even halfway through Year 2, in Chase contention as we approach the halfway point of the schedule. He's within 112 points, and eyeing Victory Lane often. Very impressive.

Allmendinger, meanwhile, is a different man since getting benched. When Mike Skinner took the wheel of the No. 84 team at Atlanta, some felt it signaled the end for Allmendinger. Not so much.

Skinner made races, but the team struggled nearly as badly with him as it had with Allmendinger. Skinner's feedback to the team was precisely that which Allmendinger had provided, proving to Allmendinger that the team's problems weren't solely his doing. That bolstered his confidence -- and ultimately resulted in the team's building better cars. Allmendinger has never been so confident.

Red Bull is not to be glossed over. It's for real.

Marty,

Has anyone ever run a NASCAR race with more than one person in the car?

-- Brian West, hometown unknown

Indeed, Brian. But it's been a while. Jack Smith rode with Gober Sosebee for the last few laps in the 1949 Modified race at Daytona. Smith hopped in Gober's ride to fill the fuel tank. (How stellar is that?) There was nothing in the rulebook at the time that specified he couldn't. NASCAR immediately adjusted the rulebook to state that no more than one person may ride in the car during a race.

Joe Littlejohn once rode with Herb Thomas back in 1954 during qualifying at Asheville-Weaverville in western North Carolina. The extra weight didn't hurt much -- Thomas set a track record. And, of course, Tim Flock carried the monkey, Jocko Flocko, with him in eight events in the 1953 season.

Gober Sosebee is certainly one of the coolest racing names of all time.

Gober. Dude's name was Gober.

Hey Marty,

With the road course race at Sonoma coming up soon, it makes me wonder what you think about getting a road course into the Chase in the near future. I just finished reading your latest edition of Door-To-Door and I think it's the first time EVER I've read your stuff without the word "Junior" appearing in your column. It'll probably be the last, too!

-- Dave C., hometown unknown

No, though I've long been an advocate for it, Dave. In my estimation, the driver who prevails in the Chase should have to perform on every type of track in that 10-race span: short track, intermediate, superspeedway and road course.

The argument against that makes sense, though: Currently, road courses make up just 8 percent of the Race to the Chase, 5 percent of the overall schedule and zero percent of the championship-determining Chase. A road course in the Chase would provide 10 percent of the Chase's outcome -- as it should, in my opinion.

Oh, Junior.

Junior, Junior, Junior.

Junior, Junior, Junior, Junior, Junior.

Marty,

Huge New England Patriots and Roush Fenway fan here, so I'm really excited about Randy Moss' decision to start a truck team. What's the latest with that? Is it actually going to happen, or is it like so many other times that teams are announced and never happen? I need the scoop, man!

-- Trey Palermo, Boston

According to Moss Motorsports, the wide receiver is in the final stages of completing the purchase of an existing "top team" in the Craftsman Truck Series, Trey. It's in lawyers' hands now, the team says, and Moss is waiting for them to hammer out the final details.

The team says it also is working to finalize a sponsor, and the tentative plan is for a truck debut in the next four to six weeks, once the deal is completed.

Marty,

With the announcement of Verizon buying Alltel, how does this affect Penske Racing and the No. 12 car? RCR is losing AT&T because of the Sprint agreement with NASCAR. Can we expect the same thing here? Is this something Penske was prepared for?

-- Kevin Baldwin, Phoenix

It's unknown at this point how that transaction might affect the No. 12's future, Kevin, but team owner Roger Penske told ESPN's Angelique Chengelis on Sunday at Pocono that he's not overly concerned about the development as it pertains to his race team.

"We have not had any discussion strategically how that [sale] will affect the brand at this point," Penske said. "They have a number of options. It's way too early for me to speculate what's going to happen with the sponsorship. We're waiting to see when the transaction, if it happens, when it gets executed and what's going to be the brand strategy."

It seems Penske is ready to run the 12 out of pocket, if necessary.

"We have a long-term commitment with Alltel, and I'm certainly sure they wouldn't leave us high and dry," Penske continued. "We're a team that can operate with or without a sponsor. We have done it in the past."

Marty,

Help me out, I've tried to find this out for about five years now. How is it that Ward Burton has such an accent that he is hard to understand, but his brother Jeff has next to no accent? My understanding is that they both grew up in the same house in South Boston, Va. Thanks, and I love your writings.

-- Mark, Lebanon, Ohio

Jeff always says he grew up on the north side of the house, Mark. Hilarious!

Marty,

What has happened to the No. 9 team? They were terrible and all the sudden they're unstoppable? I've been a NASCAR fan for a long time and it's one of the craziest things I've ever seen.

-- Stacy Huttleson, Georgia

Kasey Kahne's month baffles me, too, Stacy. He didn't forget how to drive for 18 months. Kenny Francis didn't forget how to strategize. Mark McCardell didn't forget how to build race cars. Yet they struggled for a year and a half, fell from penthouse to outhouse, couldn't keep up.

And suddenly -- seemingly at the flip of a switch -- here they are back in the perch. It's crazy. The cars are the same. The people are the same. And the results are completely different.

It's awfully difficult to believe confidence can have that dramatic an effect on a team's performance. But if you ask Kahne, it does. He has improved five positions in the championship standings since winning the All-Star race.

How happy is Budweiser, by the way? It took a chance on Kahne, his being so clean-cut and all, the polar opposite of Junior. Winning makes everything look like a good decision, doesn't it?

That's my time. I have to go practice my form. I assisted in a landmark victory in the Ocean City (N.J.) Cocozzopen Ladder Golf finale Monday evening. Despite fierce winds and a furious rally by Team Stephens, Team Uncle prevailed with a clutch one-pointer to end the roller-coaster championship tilt.

We're contemplating turning pro -- we just need some sponsorship. Mack & Manco Pizza is the thought, though that'd be largely moot.

We've eaten so much of it that we essentially would be sponsoring ourselves.

Y'all be good…

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.