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DEI negotiations 'headed in the right direction'

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Although negotiations are on hold, that shouldn't prevent Dale Earnhardt Jr. from having a new deal with Dale Earnhardt Inc. by May.

"Absolutely," Max Siegel, the president of Global Operations for DEI, said before Sunday's Nextel Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. "All of the issues are properly framed. That's a realistic goal."

Negotiations were put on hold when Earnhardt Jr.'s sister and business partner, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, underwent surgery on Friday to remove tumors from her pancreas. She is expected to stay in the hospital for four or five days.

"She's at a critical part of this process," Siegel said. "I don't want the focus to be on her recovery for the contract negotiation.

"Every day we're checking in with her and making sure that the first priority is her getting healthy. As soon as they're ready to resume any kind of discussions we're ready."

Siegel doesn't foresee any situation in which negotiations would continue without Kelley.

But Siegel sees no reason why a new deal can't still be done by May while DEI still has exclusive negotiating rights.

"You can't really rush the process," he said. "We're all headed in the right direction, so just as soon as it makes sense for us to sit back down we will. But none of us want to do anything that is going to interfere with her recovery or frame of mind."

Earnhardt Jr. is in the last year of his contract with the company his father built. He said earlier this year he wanted majority ownership to be a part of his new deal.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.