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MAY 10, 2007

An explosion in NASCAR

Later today NASCAR's biggest current star Dale Earnhardt Jr will hold a press conference at which he is expected to announce that he is leaving his late father's DEI organisation at the end of the year. The latest speculation is that he will use his own JR Motorsports to enter the Nextel Cup next year, probably taking his DEI team mate Martin Truex Jr with him. Other sources say he may end up with Richard Childress Racing, the team for which his father drove for most of his career.

Earnhardt had wanted to get control of DEI but his stepmother Teresa was only willing to give that up for something in the region of $50m, a sum of money that Dale Jr was unwilling to pay.

The loss of Earnhardt and Truex, and their funding, would be a major blow to DEI and may explain the merger talks going with Robert Yates Racing in recent days. These could result in DEI-Yates becoming a Ford team in 2008.

Whatever the outcome, the story has been putting NASCAR back into the spotlight in the United States with the family feud giving the whole business an air of soap opera.

And, as Bernie Ecclestone knows well, a little controversy can do wonders for TV viewing figures.

The other big story that is brewing up in the US is Danica Patrick, who is back at Indianapolis and already showing the kind of pace that will put her in with a chance of winning the 500 a fortnight from now.

Britain's Dan Wheldon set the pace, lapping the Brickyard at 226.391mph but the competition will be tight with Helio Castroneves (225.820), Scott Dixon (224.902), Marco Andretti (224.745), Tony Kanaan (224.112), Sam Hornish Jr (224.054), Dario Franchitti (223.844mph), Tomas Scheckter (223.539) and Patrick (223.476) all in the hunt.