Siegel loses Earnhardt as top driver

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Max Siegel has missed his first major goal as president of Dale Earnhardt Inc.-to retain Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the star driver.

Earnhardt Jr. announced today in North Carolina that after this season he would leave the Charlotte-based team his late father founded.

Industry insiders said Siegel, an Indianapolis native and former Baker & Daniels attorney, was close to getting a deal with Earnhardt Jr. signed, but team owner Teresa Earnhardt-the wife of the late Earnhardt-wouldn’t give up 51 percent of the team as her stepson demanded.

Siegel, who became the highest-ranking minority executive in NASCAR when he took over at DEI in February, now faces a difficult situation.

Earnhardt Jr., sources said, will likely take his primary sponsors, Budweiser and Chevrolet, with him. If Earnhardt Jr. starts his own Nextel Cup team, he also could take DEI teammate Martin Truex with him.

In the four months they have worked together, Siegel has gained the trust of Earnhardt Jr., fueling speculation that the former music industry marketing whiz might follow the younger Earnhardt to his new team. Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver, would be any marketer’s dream.

But Siegel has steadfastly supported Teresa Earnhardt, who gave him his start in the sport even though he had little direct racing industry experience

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