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Tuesday, May 6
Park let go by DEI
"Steve was instrumental in DEI's first NASCAR Winston Cup program," said Earnhardt's widow, Teresa. "Our loyalty to each other was hard to overcome. However, the time came where we simply had to make a change."
Park has raced the Number One Pennzoil Chevrolet the last few years at Phoenix International Raceway.
Park said he recognized his release was a business decision.
"I wanted to let everyone know that there are no hard feelings between myself and DEI -- companies make decisions like this since that is the nature of the racing business,'' he said. "I will always look back on my years of driving for DEI with much happiness.
"It will always be an honor for me that I was the first Winston Cup driver for owner Dale Earnhardt.''
The team hired Jeff Green on an interim basis. He was fired Monday by Richard Childress Racing. Green drove a Busch Series car for Earnhardt in 1995, the first year Earnhardt stopped driving it himself.
"We feel Jeff can bring a fresh perspective to this team," Teresa Earnhardt said. "He's worked with our teams in the past and knows that we're dedicated to winning."
Park has had a tumultuous two years since Earnhardt's 2001 death. Six months after Earnhardt was killed in a wreck during the Daytona 500, Park was seriously injured in an accident at Darlington.
Park bruised his brain and was sidelined seven months. After he returned to the No. 1 Chevrolet in March 2002, he struggled through poor performances while ignoring speculation he wasn't healthy enough to be back in the car.
DEI gave him a one-year contract extension to take him through this season, but there was speculation he wouldn't make it to the end of the deal. After winning the pole two weeks ago at California Speedway, Park blasted his critics.
"Amid all the media rumors about me losing my job ... our contract's up at the end of the year," he said. "I guarantee you I plan being in that car until the end of the year."
But he wrecked on the first lap and finished 41st. He also wrecked out of Saturday night's race in Richmond and is 33rd in the standings with just one top-10 finish.
Earnhardt put Park in the first Winston Cup car he ever fielded in 1998. He eventually expanded to a three-car operation, hiring son Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Michael Waltrip, and made DEI one of the top teams in NASCAR.
When he hired Park, a relatively unknown driver from NASCAR's modified series, Earnhardt bragged that his new protege would win a race before his 15th start in the Busch Series.
Park did, leading the final 71 laps at Nashville Speedway and winning in only his 12th start.
The victory was the first for DEI in more than three years -- dating to when Earnhardt drove the car himself.
Park was the 1997 Busch Series Rookie of the Year for Earnhardt, then made his Winston Cup debut the next season. He ran just 17 events, though, because he was badly injured in a crash.
But he came back to give Earnhardt his first win as a Winston Cup car owner with a victory at Watkins Glenn, N.Y., in 2000.
Park's only other victory came in 2001 at North Carolina Speedway -- a week after Earnhardt's death.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories