DEI answers Earnhardt's call for team ownership

Feb 11, 2007 - 2:44 AM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Ticker) - After Dale Earnhardt Jr. indicated he wanted "majority ownership" in the DEI NASCAR team on Thursday, it was time for DEI officials to air their side before Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout.

Max Siegel, DEI's president of Global Operations, spoke to a handful of media members on pit road, just minutes before Earnhardt competed in Saturday night's 70-lap race involving last year's pole winners.

Although he didn't think it was "prudent" to discuss the substance of the negotiations, Siegel said he was encouraged by the dialogue between young Earnhardt and the team that is owned by his stepmother, Teresa.

"The lines of communication are wide open," Siegel said. "I feel like things are moving in a very positive direction. Dale Jr. is an amazing world-class athlete and we're going to do whatever we can to make sure we can resolve this favorably."

Siegel's desire to keep the negotiations in-house have been hampered by Earnhardt's ability to talk to the media. He is not the most accessible driver in the garage area, but when he does speak, Earnhardt usually has something newsworthy to say.

That was the case during Thursday's Media Day when Earnhardt said ownership was the key to whether he returns to the team next season.

"The main factor is the ownership part," Earnhardt said. "It has nothing to do with money and nothing else really. I would really like my team. My father has been gone for almost six years now, I want majority ownership."

Siegel made an uncomfortable smile when asked about that demand on Saturday night.

"I don't have an opinion," he said. "People express themselves in a number of ways. It's my job just to stay focused on the business issues and figure out how we can address all the issues around the table and just keep things moving forward in a positive direction."

Siegel also realized the magnitude and the attention that came from Earnhardt's comments have been the major topic of conversation leading into the 48th Daytona 500.

"I think people are excited about news and I think the fans want to consume what they get," Siegel said. "I'm not really surprised by it. It's my job to do everything I can to support the team and Dale Jr. so they can focus on winning a championship."

Earnhardt is handling his negotiations along with his sister, Kelley Earnhardt-Elledge. Siegel called them "two amazing people" and looked forward to serious negotiations that would keep the NASCAR icon on the team.

"For me, I'd just like to focus on the common goal and what the business issues are on the table and try not to get caught up in that," Siegel said. "Nothing surprises me. And I think in any set of business negotiations, you've got to ask for it. When people don't want the most and the best for themselves, and they're not pushing me to be the best I can possibly be, you've got to wonder why you're in business with them.

"So no, I'm not surprised."

If Earnhardt were to become a free agent, he would be one of the most sought after drivers in NASCAR history and be welcomed at many of the major teams. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt, drove for team owner Richard Childress for most of his career and won six of his seven Cup titles for that team.

A move to RCR would seem like a natural for Dale Earnhardt Jr., but Siegel said it's his job to make sure that doesn't happen and that Dale Jr. remains at DEI.

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