By admin | March 24, 2009
By Richard Allen
As is so often the case, the focus of much attention this past weekend was on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Being the most popular driver in NASCAR creates a media and fan driven storm around Junior that he is often caught up in, seemingly against his will.
At issue on this particular occasion was the status of crew chief Tony Eury, Jr.
When asked about his popularity and its impact Junior indicated that Eury has had to play the role of the bad guy too often. “Every time I read in the paper that people are on his case, I feel like I am sending my brother to jail for a crime I committed,” Junior declared.
It is certainly admirable to stand up for a team member. However, statistics show that criticism of someone is justified. From 2000 to 2004 Junior amassed a total of 15 Sprint Cup wins.
In 2005, for whatever reason, the crews of he and Michael Waltrip were exchanged. Since that time, Junior has scored only three wins.
2006 is the year Tony Eury, Jr. became Earnhardt’s full time crew chief. In two years at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. the duo managed only one win and missed out on the Chase for the Championship in 2007.
In 2008, Junior left his father’s team to join ultra-successful car owner Rick Hendrick. Hendrick’s teams have won more races and championships than any other organization over the last decade and a half and predictions of great things were made for the new driver of car #88.
Eury also left DEI to join his cousin at Hendrick Motorsports.
Last year in their first campaign for HMS the cousins managed only one victory. And while Earnhardt did qualify for the Chase for the Championship, he finished a distant 12th in the final standings.
Earnhardt’s lack of success since 2005 has to have an explanation. Many fans and non fans of the popular driver point to Eury as that explanation.
Whether he intended to or not, by attempting to deflect the criticism away from Eury, Junior opened a whole new can of worms.
It seems apparent that Eury is not the crew chief to guide Junior to multiple win seasons and championships. The two have been together long enough to have a track record and that track record screams of mediocrity. However, Junior is comfortable with Eury on his pit box, win or lose.
By expressing his desire to maintain the status quo, Junior has shown that multiple win seasons and championships are not necessarily the most important things in his life.
“I like racing with him,” Junior insisted. “Maybe we are not the best combination out there, but I think if we are both on our A game and doing what we should be doing and we get a little bit of luck and a break here and a break there, we would be just as good as anybody else out there.”
Those are quite a few conditions that have to fall into place for the Junior and Junior combination to ‘be just as good as anybody else out there’.
It is unlikely that Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus would ever admit that so many conditions have to fall into place for them to ‘be just as good as anybody else out there’.
More importantly, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. would have never made such a statement.
Fair or not, Junior is always going to be compared to Senior. And when it comes to the desire to win Junior does not have the same drive as Senior. No matter how much sponsors, car owners or fans may want him to have that drive, he just doesn’t.
There is no way Dale Earnhardt, Sr. would have lagged through a four year period of mediocrity without doing something about it. He showed that when paired with crew chief Larry McReynolds.
McReynolds came to Richard Childress Racing with excellent credentials, and he and Earnhardt did win the Daytona 500 together. However, aside from that the two just never seemed to click and McReynolds was eventually replaced atop the #3 pit box.
Conversely, even without a past history of success, Junior declared, “I just like racing with him(Eury). That is what I want to do, you know, for the rest of my life.”
I am not saying Junior does not want to win. I believe he does want to win races and championships. He said as much in the Bristol press conference.
The difference between he and his father is that he wants to win, his father needed to win. Winning made Dale Earnhardt, Sr. who he was. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is who he is regardless of win totals.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is who he is. He seems to be comfortable with who he is. That may frustrate some, but ultimately, everyone has to take into consideration that he is not his father. Their wants may be the same but their needs appear to be very different.
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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