The rumors that have been circulating in the garage areas at tracks for the last couple of months are apparently true: Paul Menard, who drives the 15 Menard's Chevrolet, will leave Dale Earnhardt Inc. after the 2008 season and will drive, with Menard's sponsorship, for Yates Racing in 2009.
For Dale Earnhardt Inc, this presents more of a problem than the loss of a so-so driver. Though Paul has won in the Nationwide series, he has yet to post a win in the Sprint Cup series. The main problem for DEI is that Paul Menard came to the company with a built in sponsor. When Paul leaves DEI after the end of the season, the company run by his father John will leave as well.
Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s struggle to find sponsorship in 2009 and beyond is not unique among Sprint Cup teams. Yates Racing has not had a full time sponsor for either of its cars in 2008. If full time sponsorship cannot be found before the beginning of the 2009 season, it's likely that either Travis Kvapil or David Gilliland will be looking for a new ride next year. It is also apparent that DEI will likely be dropping at least one team next year unless sponsorship is found and signed quickly.
The 01 car currently driven by Regan Smith, the 8 car that will be driven by Aric Almirola, and the 15 car currently driven by Paul Menard will all need sponsorship that has either not been secured or at least not announced at this point. Only the 1 Chevrolet driven by Martin Truex Jr. appears to have secure full time sponsorship for 2009. Whether or not the 15 team folds completely would appear to be contingent upon whether a driver can be found for the team that will attract sponsors. DEI does not appear to have a popular driver waiting in the wings for that Cup ride at this point.
It has been reported that Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing, has taken a personal interest in helping the company started by his former championship driver and close friend started. When Dale Earnhardt died in 2001, many questioned whether DEI would survive. In fact, the company did survive, at least up to this point. With the loss of Dale Earnhardt Jr., last year, who left the team his father started after the 2007 season, many considered this event to be the beginning of the end for DEI. With the loss of a driver with a built-in sponsorship such as Paul Menard, it would appear that there are indeed tough times ahead for Dale Earnhardt Inc.