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Winston Cup Series

Friday, July 5

Park tiring of job insecurity
Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Steve Park is fed up with the uncertainty surrounding his future with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and said Friday he'd leave the organization if the right deal came along.

Because DEI has yet to tell Park if they want him after his contract expires at the end of the year, Park believes he'll be the consolation prize should the organization not be able to find a suitable replacement.

''They have not given me an indication, so I still feel like I am their second choice and I refuse to be put in that situation,'' Park said. ''If they have ideas or Plan A of what they want and it doesn't work out, I'm not going to be around for them to fall back on.

''All I read about is Steve Park is hanging on to his job and I'm fed up. ... I have to look out for what's good for me.''

Park is looking for a fresh start when he rolls out from the eighth position in Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

His team has yet to return to the level it was at before Park suffered a severe head injury in a wreck last September. His best finish was 20th at Texas in April and he's 39th in the points.

He knows his job status is on shaky ground -- teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Thursday that Park's performance ''has leveled off, and that's not acceptable.''

But if DEI plans to let him go, Park just wants to know so he can start planning for his future. He said he talked broadly with management about a one-year deal, but wasn't interested.

''With a one-year deal, this time next year we'll be in the same exact boat and that doesn't interest me,'' Park said. ''Either I'm the driver and you have the confidence that I can get the job done or get somebody else.''

Ty Norris, executive vice president of DEI, said the organization is close to making a final decision on Park.

''We're giving him every opportunity to still be here,'' Norris said. ''Everything we can do.''

Park is adamant he has nothing to prove to the organization. He won two races for DEI before his injury, which affected his speech and his vision.

His eyesight has long healed and his speech, which can be deliberate and cause him to slur, has also markedly improved. So Park thinks he's become the fall guy for all of DEI's current struggles. Michael Waltrip, whose contract is also up at the end of the year, is 14th in the points and Earnhardt Jr. is 16th.

''What do I have to prove? It's not about Steve Park, I've got the fire and confidence in myself to win races,'' he said. ''I think DEI is struggling for the answer ... and I'm sick and tired of the fingers being pointed at me because Steve Park hit his head. That's the easiest thing to do and to me it's a cop-out.''

What frustrates Park the most is the uncertainty that he thinks is bred from a lack of a leader at DEI. Earnhardt Jr. has touched upon that, noting that there's been no clear front-man since Dale Earnhardt died last year. His widow, Teresa, now runs the business.

It makes Park long for his old boss, who had a no-nonsense, straightforward approach to business. Park was Earnhardt's first Winston Cup driver before the expansion to three teams.

''Right now, with contract re-negotiation, I just miss him to death,'' he said. ''When I first got hurt, I thought I wanted to be here ... I was so loyal to what Dale started and what Teresa has maintained.

''Now I feel strung around. All that's telling me is that they are trying to put something in place and if that works out, they'll do that. If not, then Steve Park will drive the car. That makes you second-rate and I don't feel like I'm second-rate.''

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