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« Potential NASCAR stories for 2010: Tony Stewart wins the Daytona 500 | Main | Potential NASCAR stories for 2010: Kyle Busch wins the most races »

By giving Junior the chance of a lifetime Hendrick has become a villain

By admin | January 4, 2010

By Richard Allen

Inject a dose of truth serum(provided that’s not against NASCAR’s drug policy) into any driver in the NASCAR garage and ask him who he would most like to drive for and the vast majority are going to say Hendrick Motorsports. Any driver would consider it the opportunity of a lifetime to drive for the team that finished 1-2-3 in the 2009 standings, has won four consecutive Sprint Cup titles and has scored nine championships since 1995.

However, many fans of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. developed a different opinion in 2009. Many of the popular driver’s fans are quick to place the blame for their driver’s struggles on car owner Rick Hendrick.

Junior has managed only one victory while driving for HMS and that was a fuel mileage stretch in Michigan back in 2008. This past year he finished a poor 25th in the final standings while his teammates prospered on their way to the previously mentioned 1-2-3 finish.

To perhaps make matters even worse for Junior and his fans, an HMS subsidiary, Stewart-Haas Racing, placed both of its drivers in the Chase for the Championship along with the three HMS regulars.

In the midst of the 2009 season Earnhardt’s cousin and crew chief, Tony Eury, Jr., was replaced on top of the #88 pit box by Hendrick insider Lance McGrew. Little difference was seen from the change in the way of results.

The thing most interesting to me in receiving comments and e-mails after writing Junior themed pieces is the amount of blame placed on Rick Hendrick for the driver’s troubles. Hendrick said when he hired Junior that if all did not go well he would be the one to get the blame. Well, he was correct whether it is rightfully so or not.

According to the comments I’ve seen, many believe Junior is given Research and Development equipment to drive in order to help the other HMS drivers. So in other words, the driver who brings in the greatest amount of sponsorship money and merchandise is doing the dirty work for the others.

Hendrick is a smart businessman. He has millions of dollars to prove that. Making his top revenue getter do all the dirty work would be a dumb decision. Hendrick didn’t get where he is by making dumb decisions.

Junior winning races would be a financial boon for Hendrick and the sport as a whole. If Junior were winning as often as the other HMS drivers he would be responsible for more souvenir sales than the other three combined. Mr. Hendrick is smart enough to know this.

The flurry of news media coverage and attention derived from Jimmie Johnson’s fourth championship would pale in comparison to the attention derived from one Junior championship. Mr. Hendrick is smart enough to know this.

As evidence of their favorite driver’s mistreatment Earnhardt fans point to the fact that Junior was often driving old cars that had been prepared by Eury rather than new cars prepared by McGrew. That sort of blows the R&D thought out of the water. What information could be gained by having Junior drive cars that are known to be bad?

Remember, it was Junior who chose to bring Eury along with him when he left Dale Earnhardt, Inc. New cars are not developed in the blink of an eye so the cars being used were the cars built by the driver’s hand chosen crew chief.

What is even more mind boggling to me is that I’ve read comments saying Junior should go drive for Richard Childress Racing as soon as he can get out of his HMS contract. RCR did not place a driver in the Chase for the Championship in 2009 nor did they win even one race over the course of the season.

Rick Hendrick has said that the #88 team will be his top priority in the coming 2010 season. I do not believe that means he has ignored this team up to now. I believe he wants each of his teams to be successful. He just intends to give that team additional attention.

I had not really intended to write any Junior related pieces for a while but I felt compelled to after the column titled ‘Junior has more important things to worry about than his car number’. And further more, I am not looking to pick a fight with Junior Nation. I am just presenting what seems to me to be misconception of reality.

Also, I am not particularly a fan of Rick Hendrick. I admire his success but there are things in his past I have not necessarily agreed with. However, I believe the resentment toward him in this case is misplaced.

Again, pick any driver in the garage area and ask them to truthfully say who they would like to drive for and they would say Hendrick Motorsports. Junior is in the best circumstance he could hope for. Rick Hendrick put him there and as he predicted, he has become a villain for doing so.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

Topics: Articles |

20 Responses to “By giving Junior the chance of a lifetime Hendrick has become a villain”

  1. Prof pi (Jeff Thompson) Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    It is perhaps equally likely you’ll not win over many friends with this clear-eyed view. One might accuse Rick Hendrick of several things, but being a fool is most assuredly not one of them.
    While the technology of the NASCAR vehicles is still in the 1970’s, the science of improving them is more sophisticated than ever, and ranks with F1 (which is why the US F1 elected to locate in Charlotte, not England).
    It would seem that Junior might be too much made in his father’s image (remember that it was Dale Sr. who was so disparaging about safety concerns in the years 1999 and 2000), and adapting to new science (7 post rigs, etc.) may not be a leap that Junior can make.

  2. Brian Webb Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Jr is Jr’s worst villian. Jr spends (in my opinion) way too much time with other “priorities” than being a race car driver. Whiskey River, Danica Patrick, buddies at his house and the list goes on. I don’t think Jr does any weight and endurance training (unless you count 12 ounce curls working out) and it sounds like he doesn’t spend much time, if any at the actual race shop. He always looks wind’ed and fatigued after every race when they talk to him. Does he even know what a race car set up is anymore? In my opinion, I would of fired Jr and put Brad Kesleowski in the 88 car for 2010. but I guess Rick won’t fire his cash cow!

  3. Larry Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    It kills me to think that every writer puts the whole of “Jr Nation” in one boiling pot. The VAST majority of “us” are not the blind ignorant fools the media makes us out to be. The few that have ranted that Jr was given inferior equipment or that Rick doesn’t care about Jr, or that all Jr is to Rick is a money machine, are the minority of Jr’s fans. We “the majority” have no illusions about the fact that Jr. has had a hard time adapting to the COT, and that his early success in 08 was borne on the fact that the other drivers where experiencing a learning curve themselves in the COT, and not so much on Jr’s talent. Jr’s problem stems from his lack of dirt track experience, the COT feels out of control to him, not so to a driver with dirt track experience. Jr. has always been slow to adapt to change, this has been evident throughout his career. Rick has now thrown every asset he has at “the problem”. Jr will come up to speed, he will adapt,we saw a little of this at the end of the 09 season, even though the finishes didn’t show it. Rick has made personnel changes to Jr’s team, good changes, that will provide Jr with the foundation to win. We are “Jr nation” when he hurts we hurt, when he’s happy so are we, we love Jr and will stick by him through it all good or bad, we are his “Fans” that’s what fans do, we all have opinions, doesn’t make them right or wrong. Now if voicing our opinions makes us different from other fans of other drivers out there, I don’t see it, but hell I don’t write about NASCAR for a living, maybe we are different; or are we just a little louder ?

  4. zhills fan Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    I think the biggest problem for Jr. is the fact that he has too many outside interests and also he is putting too much pressure on himself while racing. To me he done better after he changed crew chiefs but had a lot of bad luck.

  5. steve snelen Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Dale junior needs to get his own confidence back. It dosent really matter what car your driving, If guy’s like35th and back do better than you than you’ve got a real problem. Junior need’s to get some Kyle Bush balls and drive the damn car like he knows how to.

  6. TR69 Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Steve has it right. Sometimes things just go wrong and it starts to steam roll. Once your so-called bad luck continues long enough it will be recognized by the driver who in turn almost surrenders to it. You can be sure that 2010 will be a much better year for Jr.

  7. Ginger Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    There sure are a lot of people who think they know an awful lot about Jr. Jr ‘always’, Jr ‘never’, Jr ‘is’, Jr ‘isn’t, Jr ‘does’, Jr ‘doesn’t', Jr ‘has’, Jr ‘hasn’t, Jr ‘needs’, Jr ’should’, Jr ’shouldn’t', and on and on. Smart writer and commentors. Really, really smart!

  8. Ginger Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Oh, and Brian Webb may be the smartest. IQ???? Way up there.

  9. Robert Eastman Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Maybe Teresa knew what she was talking about when she said, “Junoir needs to decide whether he wants to be a racecar driver or a celebrity.” (I thought she was nuts at the time.) Like his daddy, he probably needs “a good woman” to help him get focused!

  10. Joe in Pittsburgh Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I personally am glad that Jr is struggling at Hendrick motorsports. The last thing we need is a 1-2-3-4 finish with SHR coming also in the top 10-12. Plus Hendrick would have what the number 1,2,3,4,5 most popular drivers as well? Where does it end? Seriously rename the trophy the Hendrick Cup whether he is a villain or not.

  11. Charles Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    I think Jr would have been better off driving for Richard Childress!It would have been better for the sport!

    I see the logic of Jr going to Hendrick! but Hendrick is the big winner in this deal!

    Remember at first Hendrick said their was “no room at the inn for Jr”! I think Hendrick seen how much money Jr would bring to his organization, plus by Jr leaving DEI and by going to him instead of Childress he would kill two birds with one stone!

    Childress would be weakened as a GM team by not getting the money Jr would provide and if Harvick leaves and takes the sponsor with him next year, with the current GM issues Hendrick would be top team by having all the star drivers and plus he has I believe 30 GM dealerships! You can see his competition on the GM side wilting on the vine!

    Hendrick is a shrewd businessman! Dont feel sorry for all the flack he is getting by the Dale Jr problems he is winning by lossing!!!

  12. Marybeth Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Rich,
    If Jr. is such a trial and burden and problem for Hendrick, then just let him go. It would end the misery for both of them. 2 years is a more than fair trial. Some things were just never meant to be, and this looks like one of them. KB’s wins did not take off until he got to Gibbs. Being ousted from HMS is the best thing that ever happened to him. Marybeth
    PS I feel that some of the things you said were directed at me, but you should also say that I was quoting Nascar Now and other writers.

  13. Richard Allen Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Marybeth,
    I’ve had numerous people say the things I commented on in the piece.

  14. LB Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    I wonder if Junior has spent any time with a sports psychologist to assist him with the mental aspect of the sport. He always seems to be so down and out when he is interviewed whether before or after a race. Often, his mind seems to be a million miles away. All of the other factors mentioned are important to a driver’s success but that space between his ears means just as much or more. I think he should look into it if he hasn’t already.

  15. charles watson Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Why is it that you have not heard of jr being drug tested ? His two running mates have been suspended from driving from nascar yet no mention of jr. Do you not find it interesting that two of jrs running mates were suspended for failed drug test, yet no mention of jr?

  16. Overa88ted Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    JR.’s 2010 season will pretty much mirror his 2009 results. And the slide will continue the rest of his career. Quite making excuse’s Jr. Nation and get used it. A championship isn’t ever going to happen.

  17. Brian Webb Says:
    January 6th, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Brian Webb’s IQ is much higher that somebody named “Ginger.” My “opinions” are mine and mine alone. Don’t try to insult my intellegence because I have an opinion that differs from yours. I knew a girl named Ginger once, but that was a stage name.

  18. Marybeth Says:
    January 6th, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Rich, “Richard Allen Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 7:06 pm
    Marybeth,
    I’ve had numerous people say the things I commented on in the piece.” But you don’t believe any of them…?

    If you had a private e-mail I mail this to you…but you don’t. It was from Mike Mulhern’s column last week and my response…which somehow never got posted on his site…? :) Marybeth

    The top-10 NASCAR storylines of 2009: Here are ours….and what are your’s?

    12/30/2009 - 11:03 Mike Mulhern

    Number seven: Dale Earnhardt Jr. What in the world is going on here? The son of the legend completely fell apart during the season. Yes, it was a ragged start, that ill-fated tussle with Brian Vickers midway through the opening Daytona 500…but then if Earnhardt hadn’t missed his pit on that stop….
    Well, suffice it to say Junior’s head simply wasn’t in the game most of the season, and things went from bad to worse. Car owner Rick Hendrick, back in the spring, vowed to get Earnhardt’s operation back on track, and Hendrick shuffled long-time crew chief Tony Eury Jr. right out of the picture. Bad move by Hendrick. Yes, Lance McGrew did a good job running Earnhardt’s team from June on, but nothing really changed. Even Hendrick putting all of his immense resource behind the Earnhardt team didn’t save the day. And those tabloid stories didn’t help the image.
    The bottom line: Teammates Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon went an amazing 1-2-3 in the Sprint Cup playoffs…while Earnhardt wound up a dismal 25th. Does Earnhardt still have the confidence in himself to get this job done? Does his crew still have confidence in him?
    And for 2010: Hendrick is giving his share of JR Motorsports to the Earnhardt family and bringing in Danica Patrick as a part-time driver…which will certainly be a distraction for Earnhardt himself.

    Mike, I am not writing Jr. off, just his being with HMS. I do not see why next year should be any better as long as he is still at HMS. RH has said 3 or 4 times before that he is going to “fix” Jr.’s cars.

    Last spring Nascar Now started reporting that Tony Jr. was making Jr.’s car with 2007 DEI spec cars. When he was removed, RH said that he was going to ‘fix’ Jr.’s cars. I believed him. During the week the crew chiefs were switched, Nascar Now reported that since Jr.’s cars sent to Dover were the old T. Jr. cars and that HMS sent a truck with 2 of the newer HMS chassis to switch out. Those cars never made it to Dover. Instead they made a big deal out of the ‘brains’ at HMS were working on Jr.’s car…the OLD chassis cars.

    Carol Einarsson on 12/3/09 said “Biggest Disappointment - Rick Hendrick’s unwillingness to do what it takes to get Junior in the same equipment that Jimmie Johnson is in. Some have grumbled certain accusations that at first left me wondering, but I’ve since come on board 100% to believe…”

    If RH really wanted Jr. competitive he would use some of the ton of money he brings into HMS and have hired Addington as his crew chief.

    I do not see why I should think another year is going to be any different…? 2 years is a fair trial and this match up isn’t working…& it is time for divorce, for the best for both sides. It has gotten to be too painful to watch. RH has let a lot of drivers go, most notably Kyle Busch. It is the best thing that ever happened to KB. His wins did not take off until he got to Gibbs. He could be the one driving the R&D car for HMS. Last year Jr.’s had more equipment breakdowns than all of the other 3 cars combined!

    As for the National Enquirer article, I am still trying to figure out who got that going. I e-mailed the author and he will only say that it was “some concerned friends”. With friends like that, who needs enemies?..and that whoever did it did not do it for money. Is someone trying to ’smear’ Jr.? Why? It came about from his interview with Nicole Manske on ESPN right after he qualified so poorly at Charlotte. He was driving another one of the old Tony Jr. cars. He had finished 27th in the June Pocono race in it..and 36th at the fall Charlotte race the year before. Do you suppose JJ was still driving the car he drove the year before? Lance had made 2 new 1 1/2 mile track cars for Jr. Why wasn’t Jr. driving one of them? Was Brad K. driving one of them? If I were driving the 25/88 R&D car I would probably drink, too, and I don’t drink at all!! Jr. has to get out of HMS…NOW!!!! Marybeth

    “And for 2010: Hendrick is giving his share of JR Motorsports to the Earnhardt family….”

    That is not what I heard. I would appreciate it if you could elaborate a little further just what you heard and who you heard it from. To: Mike Mulhern 12/31/09

  19. Marybeth Says:
    January 7th, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Rich,
    ““Tom Bowles> INSIDE NASCAR: SI

    OK, last but not least, here’s a follow-up from last week about Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s crew chief Lance McGrew…
    Tom, what do you think would happen first? Hendrick signs a big name crew chief to replace Lance… or, Junior gets released from his contract? — Marcus
    Hendrick will try about 10 different crew chiefs before he’d even think about releasing Earnhardt from his contract, which runs through 2012. Even if the No. 88 car has another miserable season, the money and popularity are just too much to let go. Add in Hendrick’s self-anointed “mission” to be responsible for Earnhardt running up front, and he’s determined to keep trying until it’s either fixed or a five-year failure.”
    …and if Hendrick destroys Jr.’s career & his life on the altar of his own greed, Rick is good with that….? Frankly, I don’t think that RH has tried to fix it, even though he has said that a number of times now. I don’t believe that RH has a mission to see Jr. running up front either. There have many too many inconsistencies, like back at Dover when the cc was changed and a big deal was made out of the “brains” of HMS going over to work on Jr.’s car. It was still the same 2 year old chassis they were working on, not the newer ones that were suppose to be sent up there but somehow never arrived. That was reported on Nascar Now.
    In 2007 in F1, Alonso moved to McLaren. It became apparent by summer that the role FA had envisioned for himself when he signed the contract, was different from the one Ron Dennis saw for him, as 2nd to Hamilton. RD realized that this is not what FA had signed the contract for and that he was not being fair to FA and was able to man-up and gentleman enough, fair enough, to let FA go after only 1 year on his contract. Hopefully RH can rise to the same standard.

    Marybeth

  20. Chase Says:
    January 10th, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Well…Marybeth, You sure got fired up about this article haha. I must admit that as I was reading this article (6 days late) I couldnt help but think “this must be a direct response to Marybeth’s comments.”

    Rich, here is my opinion…Dale Jr does not have any more outside distractions then does Tony Stewart. Dale Jr is not in any worse shape then Tony Stewart. Yet, People want to rip Jr apart for these things and want to attribute his lack of success to the 2 before mentioned issues.
    Also, whether it was the article or a comment, someone mentioned Jr’s lack of dirt experience. Having dirt experience would not hurt Jr any, but I don’t believe it would help much either. Carl Edwards has much dirt experience in the midwest, yet it was Carl Edwards that said himself in a recent article that He would like to put a little more driver into the race car instead of driving into the corner at 200 mph and wondering how good his engineers are. Jr is a proven winner and has proven he can drive a race car. After that its about the team you’ve got. I dont care if Dale Jr is driving for HMS. The quality of his team is not the same as the quality of the #48 team. Who’s to blame for that? IDK…But I don’t think its Rick either.
    A NASCAR teams success is very complex. For whatever reason, the #88 team has not come together as a whole to produce fast race cars that cater to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Could part of it be attributed to Dale Jr’s lack of feedback? Yes, it’s very likely, but I also think that with Another CC on the box other than family he is being forced to improve in that area.
    People always want Jr Nation to face the facts. So, lets face the facts…Jr is driving the 25 car. Jr signed on to drive the least competitive car in Rick Hendrick’s fleet. Yes, HMS is deep in Resources, but not deep enough to field 4 HIGHLY competitive cars. Hence, I would look for Mark Martin’s performance to slide slightly as a direct result of off-season personnel changes.
    Bottom Line…Success in NASCAR these days is much more complex than just a driver. Todays NASCAR driver receives too much credit or too much blame for how his car runs. The team has to have great engineering, The car has to be sturdy, the crew has to be meticulous, the driver has to be focused, the right calls have to be on the pit boxmade for each circumstance in the race. All those start have to align just to win one race. You take out any of those elements and you will not win that given race. So lets face the facts!!!! That team(88/25) is not and never has been good! from Owner down to driver down to the rear tire changer. Jr could have more success else where. Where though? That is the million dollar question…