NASCAR & Auto Racing

For Truex, benefits of merger may not arrive this season

When Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Ginn Racing merged their Nextel Cup operations in July, the expectation was that eventually the effort would result in fast race cars.

Eventually, however, is not arriving fast enough for Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship.

Right now, when Truex could use it the most, the merger is doing very little for the second-year driver and his DEI team.

Information and data sharing have begun, but he said, “We haven’t quite got on the same page yet.”

On Thursday, a major shakeup occurred at DEI, when director of competition Steve Hmiel announced that he had left the race team.

The DEI-Ginn merger brought together a cash-strapped team owned by Bobby Ginn and the team founded by Dale Earnhardt.

What emerged was a four-car team featuring DEI drivers Truex, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Paul Menard, and Ginn’s driver tag-team of Mark Martin/Aric Almirola in the No. 01 car.

It appeared that DEI would be the major benefactor of the merger: It became a four-car team; it assured Menard automatic entry to races, as it put him into the top-35 in owner points; and it allowed the team to acquire additional shop space to facilitate a four-car effort.

Most importantly, the merger meant that DEI became owner of an expensive piece of equipment that has become essential for success in Nextel Cup — a seven-post shaker rig, a computerized machine that helps a team set up cars before arriving at the track.

Truex is the only driver from DEI in the Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship. He started the playoff ranked seventh, 50 points behind then-leader Jimmie Johnson.

He placed fifth in the first Chase race, but the going has been tough since. His average finish in the last four races is 25th, and he has slipped to 11th in the points standings, 378 points behind leader Jeff Gordon.

Some of Truex’s problems have been caused by wrecks, and the 42nd-place finish at Talladega was the result of a blown engine. But the DEI cars have just not been as fast as the Hendrick cars, which are first and second in the points standings.

Truex is confident that they soon will be.

“I think the first time we ran a common car was at Dover, and Mark (Martin) really liked it,” Truex said. “And all the teams ran well and ran pretty much the same set-up. So it will get better, I think. Throughout the winter and going into next year, it will be where it needs to be. We’ll all have the same cars, so the information will go back and forth better.”

Truex said his team has not shifted into a wait-until-next-season mode. He still thinks he can win a race or two in the final five weeks of the season.

But in all likelihood, his chances in the Chase are over.

“Some things just didn’t go our way this year,” Truex said.

Perhaps the timing of the merger with Ginn was one of those things.