By admin | May 26, 2009
By Richard Allen
A friend of mine who does not really follow racing asked me on Tuesday morning, “What happened to Junior?” He was thinking that to finish 40th he had to have crashed or had mechanical troubles.
Well, nothing like that happened. He ran all day, or at least what part of the race was actually run, with no crash or no mechanical problems and could only manage a 40th place finish. For that matter, Junior has finished 20th or worse in each of the last six races, except for the 2nd place he had on the restrictor plate track in Talladega.
So far, this heavily funded Hendrick Motorsports team has put together a season filled with pit road blunders and numerous other unforced errors. Junior is currently 19th in the Sprint Cup standings, 497 points behind leader Jeff Gordon and 203 points behind Mark Martin in the all important 12th position.
There is obviously a problem. How can a Hendrick team with so much funding be so bad?
The other three HMS cars are positioned inside the Top 12. Gordon leads the standings while Jimmie Johnson ranks 4th. Martin, who got off to a terrible start due to tire and engine problems early in the year, is now 12th. Each of those teams has won in 2009.
There is no reason to think anything is going to improve on the #88 car unless a change is made.
Perhaps the problem is with the crew chief. Since Tony Eury, Jr. took over as Earnhardt’s pit boss their success together has been very limited. The duo have become more known for their silly arguments over the team radio than for wins and top finishes.
One other possibility could be that the problem is with the driver. After all, the crew chief is not the one who has driven by or through the pit stall far too many times this season. The crew chief did not trigger the ‘Big One’ in Daytona.
In putting a race car on the track the crew chief is just one piece of a big puzzle. Engineers, engine builders and numerous other mechanics are involved in the process. Even if the crew chief were substandard, the others involved in that process could still put a good car on the track.
It is hard to imagine that HMS hires bad engineers and other mechanics. Their record as an organization proves otherwise. While the setups for each driver may vary, it would seem likely that each car that rolls out of the HMS shops is top quality.
Maybe Junior has become too comfortable with his lifestyle. Why go out and push so hard when the souvenir sales and personal services contracts are going to run into the millions of dollars no matter what the results on the track may be? Or, maybe he is pushing too hard, which has been the cause of the mistakes. Either way, maybe the problem is in the driver’s seat.
Rumor has it there may be a crew chief change coming soon for this team. That is something that should have happened two weeks ago so that the driver and the new chief could have had the all star race to use as a practice session.
Ultimately, a change is needed so that the real problem can be found.
Once a crew chief change comes, if one does indeed happen, the pressure will then rest squarely on one person. The fault will not be with Tony Eury, Jr. anymore. The fault will not be with the evil step-mother anymore. Any claims that Rick Hendrick is giving all ‘the good stuff’ to Gordon and Johnson are ridiculous, as Mark Martin has proven.
If there is a change there can be no more excuses. It will be time for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and no one else, to produce.
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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