- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The sometimes strained relationship between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his stepmother just took another twist.
Teresa Earnhardt, the wife of the late Dale Earnhardt and owner of Dale Earnhardt Inc., questioned her stepson's commitment as a Nextel Cup driver in a rare interview published in Thursday's Wall Street Journal.
Asked about Earnhardt Jr.'s future with DEI after his contract expires following the 2007 season, she told the newspaper, "Right now the ball's in his court to decide on whether he wants to be a NASCAR driver or whether he wants to be a public personality."
Earnhardt Jr. declined to respond, according to DEI spokesman Mike Davis.
But NASCAR's perennial most popular driver has given no indication he plans to leave the organization anytime soon.
"I'd love to take over DEI," he said before the 2006 season. "Me and Teresa will talk about that when the time comes. We'll talk about that before the time comes, but that's not in the near future."
Richie Gilmore, the director of motorsports for DEI, said in August that informal negotiations to re-sign Earnhardt Jr. were ongoing.
"We talk about it all the time," he said. "It's very complicated when you work with Dale Jr. and Teresa because there's so many different parts to it. It's his dad's business and it's complicated.
"I know Teresa wants it to be Dale Jr.'s and Kelley's and Kerry's [all children of Earnhardt] someday because that's what Dale built it for and that's in the long-term plans."
But Earnhardt Jr. obviously is the most visible of the three. He has his own radio show and has appeared in several music videos, including Sheryl Crow's "Steve McQueen."
From Budweiser to Wrangler, no driver appears in more television commercials than the son of the seven-time Winston Cup champion who died on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
He's also appeared in magazines such as "Playboy" and "Rolling Stone," not your typical place for stock car drivers.
Teresa Earnhardt was unavailable to comment on whether those were issues in her interview with the Journal. But it's not the first time the two have been at odds over issues such as whether the black No. 3 that Earnhardt drove to six of his titles with Richard Childress Racing should return to the track to their most recent dispute over trademark rights to Earnhardt Jr.'s name.
"She don't want to come off it too easy because she wants to make sure my dad's name is always thought of as the way it is," Earnhardt Jr. said before Teresa surrendered rights to the name this summer.
"If I didn't have the same name -- and I kind of wish I didn't sometimes -- I wouldn't have to be worrying about it."
Earnhardt Jr. also has defended his relationship with Teresa. Such was the case a few years ago amid rumors that his stepmother refused to fly him on the team plane to New Hampshire because he wanted to take his biological mother, Brenda, along.
"That's all totally crap," Earnhardt said. "She totally wouldn't be like that. That kind of bummed me out that people would say those things."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.