By admin | September 1, 2011
By Richard Allen
Although it had seemed a foregone conclusion for quite some time now, it was formally announced on Thursday morning that Hendrick Motorsports and driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had reached an agreement to keep the popular star in the #88 Chevrolet through the 2017 season.
Junior has driven for HMS since 2008. In that time he has scored one win, eighteen top-5s and 38 top-10 finishes. He has only qualified for the Chase for the Championship playoff once so far, but he appears destined to do so again this year.
Prior to moving to HMS, Junior had driven for Dale Earnhardt, Inc, the company founded by his late father. After suffering through two mediocre campaigns in his last three years there, many of the so called ‘Junior Nation’ placed much blame on Junior’s step-mother, Teresa Earnhardt, for his failings.
Once his deal with NASCAR power broker Rick Hendrick was announced midway through the 2007 season it was believed that the driver was on track for many more race wins and perhaps even a championship or two. Instead, Junior’s performance has not improved at all while with the ‘super team’. His lone win in Michigan was the result of a fuel mileage gamble that paid off.
Also, in his time with HMS there has been somewhat of a crew chief carousel with original pit boss and cousin Tony Eury, Jr. being replaced by Lance McGrew who was in turn replaced by former Jeff Gordon crew chief Steve Letarte.
The poor results by the fan favorite have led many of his partisans to transfer their disdain from the wicked step-mother to the conniving power broker. Many comments to this website as well as posts to message boards and the various social networking sites by fans have gone so far as to accuse Hendrick of using the money brought in by Junior to the organization through lucrative sponsorship deals to better the teams of Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. The crew chief changes are often pointed to as evidence of these dirty dealings.
While this may be only a small percentage of fans who believe such is the case, they are a vocal group.
The driver himself apparently does not share this view as he did not even seem to shop himself around with potential free agency looming.
“We’re excited to have everything formalized and announced,” said Rick Hendrick in an HMS press release. “Junior and I had a handshake agreement months ago, and we let other people work out the finer points from there. It was as simple and smooth as it gets.
“My feelings haven’t changed since the day he first signed with us. I’m committed as ever to putting him in the best possible situation to be successful and compete for wins and championships.”
This season, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s performance has improved markedly over the past two years in which he finished well back in the season standings. However, he has still yet to win a Sprint Cup race in well over 100 starts. Should his performance not improve to the point that he becomes a title contender and consistent race winner, Mr. Hendrick will no doubt remain as the top target of that group of fans who seek to place blame for their favorite driver’s failings.
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