By admin | April 8, 2010
By Richard Allen
Before anyone gets too excited by the headline of this piece, let me just say that this is not going to be a condemnation of either Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Instead, it is more of a commentary on what modern day NASCAR has become. But to make the point I hope to make, I have chosen these two high profile drivers as my examples.
When talking about Junior many fans and media types alike often compare his record against his teammates. To be honest, that’s perfectly fair to do so. Logic says that the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers ought to be driving pretty much the same equipment so measuring one HMS driver against the others is not a terribly outlandish thing to do.
Earnhardt joined HMS in 2008 amid much fanfare. The sport’s most popular driver joining up with the sport’s most powerful team was surely a can’t miss pairing, right? Instead, it seems fair to label the driver’s time at HMS as a disappointment.
At the same time, if you were to ask the average fan or media member whether Gordon or Earnhardt has had more success since 2008, the resounding answer would almost certainly be that Gordon has outshined.
But has Gordon really been better than Junior in that time span? I say not really.
Sure, one look at the statistics so often quoted in modern day NASCAR would seem to boost the case for Gordon. Junior has thirteen top-5s and 23 top-10s since 2008 while Gordon has 31 top-5s and 46 top-10s over that same time frame. Also, Gordon qualified for the Chase for the Championship in both 2008 and 2009 while Junior only made the playoff in 2008.
Now, this is not to say that those statistics are not important because, of course, they are. Or at least they are at the time they occur. Only Ricky Bobby(Talladega Nights) would argue that, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” However, those stats should never overtake winning as the most important thing, but in modern day NASCAR it seems as though they have.
But in the grand scheme of things, is any driver ever going to be remembered because he piled up a lot of top-10s.
Isn’t the main goal in racing supposed to be winning? If that were so, both Gordon and Earnhardt have won only once since 2008. In that regard, they are equal. And both have been beaten out for the Sprint Cup championship by their mutual teammate, Jimmie Johnson, in those years. In that regard, they are equal.
Too often, modern day NASCAR drivers are quoted as saying something to the effect of, “It was a good points day for us.” I’d prefer to hear something along the lines of, “We didn’t win today but we busted our butts trying.”
Having “solid” runs and simply sitting at the head table during the year end banquet have become the new benchmarks for success in racing today. I would argue that if a driver isn’t winning races or championships then he might as well be doing what Junior and Gordon do as much of if not more than anyone else in NASCAR, and that is making money.
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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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