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.
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