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Can a confident Junior finally live up to expectations?

By admin | March 13, 2011

By Richard Allen


The NASCAR Sprint Cup season is only three races old. So to make a judgment about any driver or team would be, to at least some degree, out of line. That is true about those at the bottom of the standings as well as those at the top.

However, the first three races do offer a glimpse at possible trends. So far there has been a race on a 2.5 mile restrictor plate track, a one-mile short/intermediate track and a 1.5 mile cookie cutter. Those three tracks provide somewhat of a microcosm of the schedule as a whole.

With all that said, NASCAR’s most popular driver has made strides toward living up to that popularity in the season’s first three races. Two top-10 runs have helped place Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the tenth spot in the Sprint Cup standings. Now again, a word of caution to ‘Junior Nation’ is to not go out and buy tickets for the final ten races of the season based solely on these early season results. However, there are a couple of things that do seem to indicate Junior might well be poised to show improvement over his last two seasons.

In the Daytona 500, Junior’s car was fast and he appeared to have a shot at ending his day in victory lane until a late race crash sent him to the garage before the race’s conclusion. But, he has typically been a contender on the restrictor plate tracks even during the lowest of times in his career so a solid run in Daytona does not really prove much.

Where Junior has shown evidence of a possible turnaround has been on the tracks in Phoenix and Las Vegas. In both of those races he posted a poor qualifying run and experienced a bit of adversity early. Last year that would have added up to a long day of bickering with the crew chief over the radio and a disastrous finish. This year, he has been able to rebound within those races and post solid top-10s.

When Junior moved from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports many expected great things from him. Quite simply, he has not delivered. And as a result of his lack of production, his confidence has clearly suffered. He has admitted as much on more than one occasion. However, the off season pairing with upbeat crew chief Steve Letarte seems to be helping to restore this driver’s faith in his own abilities.

What remains to be seen is whether Dale Earnhardt, Jr. can make it back all the way to the status of consistent race winner and championship contender. As a member of Hendrick Motorsports, that is where he is supposed to be. There are thirty-three races left in the 2011 season to see if a little confidence can fully turn around what once looked like a promising career for this 36 year old third generation driver.

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10 Responses to “Can a confident Junior finally live up to expectations?”

  1. Anonymous Says:
    March 14th, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Although he would never say so publicly, I don’t think it was Jr’s self-confidence that ever lacked. He said when he joined HMS that he thought he was the best driver in the field, and that he believed every driver should have that same train of thought about themselves. I honestly don’t believe for one minute that he ever lacked the confidence in his own ability to wheel a race car. He know’s he has more wins to his name than the majority of the garage, he knows he accomplished a lot as a young inexperienced driver. He knows his potential. He also know’s that every driver has a feel their looking for in a race car, and remembers how it felt when he was winning races every year. The lack of confidence was in his team. Not the organization, but his team. To reference Tony Gibson, his former Car Chief, Tony said that the guys over at DEI would take a bullet for one another, they were a team and they had eachothers backs. Tony didn’t sense that with Dale’s 88 team. Of course this is all my opinion, but I truly believe he has faith in his team now. The fact that they have shown up at Phoenix and Vegas with cars that weren’t real fast off the truck, and have been at their best towards the end of a weekend when it counts, has to be huge for confidence building in his team, and also the team in him as a driver. Lance always gave off a vibe that he was doing what he could with the car , and Jr needed to take what he had a go get what he could get. We all know that wasn’t much. So when the CC is sending off the vibe that the driver needs to shut up and drive, that trickles down to the crew members.

    I tell you I really have confidence in the philosophy that Steve Letarte has with his race team. He wants to be dale’s buddy away from the track, and WANTS Dale Jr to succeed. Not only that, but he wants the crew members to get to know Dale Jr and form their own impression of him. I see Steve being the type of guy that can build a team philosophy like Dale experienced at DEI. If they start giving Jr cars he can lead laps with, watch out.

    First off I want to say I know Richard Childress was not Dale Earnhardt’s CC…But we all know that as an owner, Richard is very very hands on. With that said…Maybe Stevie can be Dale Jr’s Richard Childress. Jr need’s that guy that he would trust his life with, and if Steve can build that relationship, he will be the savior that Jr Nation has been looking for for years.

    Also, don’t forget that Steve is reported as being a close friend to Tony Eury Jr, and Tony Jr know’s what Dale is looking for in the setup of his chassis more than anyone. Tony Jr was the car chief building all those fast race cars Jr used to drive through 2004. Maybe Tony was better suited at building race cars for Dale than calling the shots as the pit boss. I’ve said for a few years that I would take Tony Jr back as a Car Chief any day.

  2. Marybeth Says:
    March 14th, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    In Phoenix on about lap 165, Jr. told Steve the car was too loose on starts. Steve fixed it. In LV, Steve fixed the car on lap 57. Tony Jr. could not & Lance could not. On Nascar Now Steve said that Jr. gives great feedback. He also said that HMS has let Jr. down. He did not expound on that.

  3. Mr. Tony Geinzer Says:
    March 14th, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    I feel that Dale Jr. is NASCAR’s Hound they try to keep around to keep away Bad Kyle Busch, and it is not working and people aren’t buying tickets now!

  4. Justin Says:
    March 15th, 2011 at 8:06 am

    There always seems to be atleast one comment from someone that hates Jr, on any Dale Jr story. It cracks me up. Do you people scan the articles, searching for stories about Jr just so you can bash him? Sounds a little obsessive. If there is a story about a driver I dont care for, I simply bypass the story. Not Jr haters, you read every Jr related article just to make sure you let everyone know that you think Jr sucks. If Jr does well, its because NASCAR fixed the race for him to do well. If Jr does terrible, its because Jr has no talent. Its so pathetic, but fortunately, your assault on the English language makes it worth it for the rest of us….

  5. Marcus Says:
    March 15th, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Justin, your comment sounds like a Bud Light Real Men of Genious commercial. Pretty awesome!

  6. earl lewis Says:
    March 15th, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    If i was rick h, i would set “little e” down in a corner, and talk down to him, in a “VERY” aggressive manner, and remind jr, of a couple of things… You are going to have to improve, keep up what you are doing, you are doing better, BUT THIS IS THE LAST CHANGE I AM, GOING TO MAKE. ENOUGH CREW, AND CREW CHIEF CHANGES. Your contract is up next yr, and you need to do a whole “lot” of proving, to remain here at hendricks.. RICK NEEDS TO LET JR KNOW, THAT HE IS REPLACEABLE, AND JUST NEEDS TO BE HAPPY HE STILL HAS A RIDE…

  7. Deb Says:
    March 15th, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Justin, your post was spot on. I too wonder why the people that dislike Junior waste their time reading articles about him. There are drivers that I don’t like and I don’t read any articles about them. Frankly I could care less about what anyone has to say about them. I guess it’s just one of those things that make you go ummmmmm…….

  8. Daleslady Says:
    March 17th, 2011 at 6:06 am

    Dale Jr has ALWAYS-ALWAYS lived up to expectations in my eyes, I dont expect him to be his father, I expect him to be himself., I dont expect junior to go out and act like his father I expect him to act like himself junior dosnt have to prove anything to his TRUE fans. he is doing just fine. I dont constantly pester him for a win, he pushes and pesters himself enough. that win will come Maybe at bristol Maybe Not but it is coming until it dose i am standing strong and firm right there with him supporting and cheering for him.

  9. earl lewis Says:
    March 19th, 2011 at 8:26 am

    It would be safe to say, that if jr does not win at least one race, or make the chase this yr, that rick h , may have someone lined up to go into the #88. After next yr. I would love to see “nascars, newest ,MOST POPULAR DRIVER” TREVOR BAYNE, in that “88 ride!!! GO TREVOR, and jr start “SWEATING”!!!!

  10. Daleslady Says:
    March 19th, 2011 at 11:01 am

    I dont think so Earl Lewis Oh ye have little Faith, Junior is gonna win Maybe Bristol Maybe the Next one, But he is gonna win, I am patient I have been following junior since 1999. I have been threw his ups and downs his good times and bad, and never once have i ever turned and ran from him. In fact My faith and my in Love and for him has just grown stronger, and I have gotten really protective of him. And i am not going anywhere.
    thank you