In the fall of 1997, Dale Earnhardt and I had a closed-door conversation with an executive of our NASCAR Busch Series team’s primary sponsor. We were informing this distinguished gentleman that we planned to move Steve Park to the Cup Series the following year and were replacing him with an unproven driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Out of character, this executive lost his mind while expressing his displeasure. After all, Park had won three times in his only full season with DEI and finished third in points.
As soon as we find someone we like, you guys move him up to Cup and we’re stuck paying for you to help your son,” the sponsor boldly said. This executive seemed to forget that the Busch Series was a true developmental series then, and much like university alumni have learned through the years, it’s hard to get attached to the best players because they are only visiting en route to the pros.
Dale got his way — imagine that — and Junior took over the No. 3 ride in 1998. He won back-to-back Busch Series titles, outpointing a kid from Wisconsin named Matt Kenseth. The highest full-time Cup driver in the final season rankings was 25th in points. Our primary sponsor paid only $1.4 million per year for all 34 events, and had 13 victories and two titles to show for it. It was affordable, well-represented and rewarding to teams and sponsors. Read the rest on NASCAR.com
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