WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Martin Truex Jr. walked into Dale Earnhardt Inc. headquarters Wednesday and stood in front of the 350 employees who were anxiously hoping to hear him say he was staying at DEI.
"I didn't even get the whole sentence out of my mouth and everybody started cheering," Truex said. "I definitely felt the love. That meant a lot to me."
It also meant a lot to DEI that Truex agreed to continue as the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet through the 2009 season, a decision the team announced Friday.
"Martin knows how much we appreciate him," DEI president Max Siegel said. "Now we can focus on our long-term plans for the company and give him all the support he needs to compete for a championship."
Truex had other offers, assuming he could have gotten out of this option year at DEI, but he said he decided to stay after DEI officials convinced him they would do everything possible to improve the organization.
"At the end of the day, this business is about people," Truex said. "If you don't believe in the people you work for, you should go fly a kite because you won't get anything done.
"I really believe in this race team. A lot of people have been critical of DEI for the wrong reasons. They criticize us every way the wind blows. We haven't won a championship and need to do that, but it seems people always have some bad story about DEI. It's not fair to the people here. I believe we have everything we need to do good things."
But Truex's long-term plans remain undecided. He agreed to stay at DEI though his option year in 2009, but he's still negotiating a possible long-tern contract with the organization.
"We're already talking about it," Truex said.
DEI vice president John Story said keeping Truex is just the first step in DEI's long-range plans.
"One reason this has taken so long is we've had a lot of dialogue about how to make the company stronger," Story said. "We're going to see a lot of new people coming into the company."
When Dale Earnhardt Jr. left at the end of 2007 to go to Hendrick Motorsports, Truex became the top guy at DEI. Mark Martin is racing a part-time schedule for DEI this year, but he's moving to Hendrick in 2009.
Story said keeping Truex for next year was essential to stopping some of the unfair speculation that the company is in trouble.
"One of the most difficult things we have to battle is perception," Story said. "This is a big step to show we're still around and strong."
Truex, 28, made the Chase for the first time last year. It's doubtful he'll return to the 12-driver playoff this season. Truex is 17th in the standings, 248 points behind 12th-place Clint Bowyer.
Truex would be only 98 points behind if not for a 150-point penalty his team incurred for a car body infraction at Daytona in July.
"I think we could have made the Chase without the penalty, but who knows," Truex said. "This whole contract thing has been a big distraction. It's been hard to deal with all the rumors.
"I'm just glad to put an end to it and get rid of all the speculation. Well, for a few weeks anyway."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.