Truex Win in Dover Questions Junior's Performance
Topics: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr.
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June 5, 2007
Tony Stewart supposedly said something along the lines that without Junior, DEI would be a museum. Everybody I've spoken to seemed to agree. It's an opinion I held myself, and repeated to others. Then Martin Truex, Jr. changed all that Sunday.
Last weekend's Truex win in the Autism Speaks 400 presented by Visa last weekend in Dover wasn't just another first-time winner making his mark on NASCAR, but a Dale Earnhardt, Inc. driver making his mark on the company and proving that it can be a winning team with drivers not named Earnhardt.
Martin Truex definitely proved one thing Sunday: that DEI can still win. While on one hand, that shows that there is still a race team there, even when Junior leaves at the beginning of next season. But it also leads to a question: Why isn't Junior winning? Is it the lame-duck mentality, that he's not getting the resources now that he's got one foot out the door? Could it just be plain ol' bad luck? Or could it be something else?
There's another question about Dale Earnhardt, Jr., that comes out of last weekend: what is he worth?
Right now, Truex stands 13th to Junior's 15th, a difference of just 23 points. Of the season's 13 races run so far, Junior has beaten Truex 9 times. Junior's average finish this season is 17.1 to Truex's 19.2. But Truex has that all-important win, while Junior's best finish has been a fifth in Martinsville. So the drivers are fairly evenly matched, at least as far as this year goes.
However, in one area where the drivers are definitely NOT evenly matched is in income. Sports Illustrated came out recently with their list of highest-paid American athletes, and Dale Jr. makes the Top 10, in tenth place. His reported income was $7,111,735 in salary and $20 million in endorsements, for a total of just over $27 million. Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, Martin Truex, Jr. does not appear on the list. Dale Jr. is the highest race car driver on the list, outranking Jeff Gordon (16) and Jimmie Johnson (31). As a name, as a spokesperson, he's worth his weight in gold.
The reason for this is, simply, that Dale Jr. is the most popular driver in NASCAR. His $20 million endorsement figure reflects the fact that he can inspire a person to pay more than $100 to wear a bright-red jacket with a corporate logo on it. Die cast distributors have told me that a large portion of their merchandise sells below wholesale, but that they make it back on higher-price sales of a few select high-demand drivers. It's obvious, looking at the prices on the merchandise on the tables, who's on that list.
While that's fine and good for Budweiser, or whoever might be his sponsor in the future, what is he worth to a race team? This is aside from what he might bring in as far as sponsorship dollars goes, this is about performance on the track. So far, he's been worth 17 wins (2.43 per year through end 2006) and a career-so-far average finish of 16.1. That just doesn't stack up against records of guys like Jimmie Johnson (1 Nextel Cup Championship, 27 wins since 2002, average finish 12.1), Tony Stewart (1 Winston Cup Championsip, 1 Nextel Cup Championship, 29 wins, 3.625 per year through end 2006, average finish 12.6), and Jeff Gordon (4 Winston Cup Championships, 78 wins, average finish 12.5), all of whom are paid substantially less than Junior. Even Ryan Newman comes close (11 wins, 2.2 per year through end 2006, average finish 16.8) to Junior's record.
However, Junior's stats have been with DEI, a team that has seen its share of struggles and hard years. But then, in light of Truex's performance last weekend, were those hard years because the cars weren't up to snuff, or were those hard years because the driver wasn't up to snuff?
None of these questions can really be answered yet, only time will tell if Dale Junior's potential is discovered with a new team or if his popularity becomes the defining feature of his career.
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