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It’s time for a serious Junior re-evaluation

By admin | October 20, 2009

By Richard Allen

It was another week and yet another disappointment for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. this past Saturday in Charlotte. A broken transmission sunk any hopes the driver had for a good finish on the 1.5 mile track.

At any given time, one of the biggest topics of conversation among NASCAR fans is the standing of driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Due to his status as the sport’s most popular driver, any conversation about the third generation star is sure to draw plenty of attention and strong opinions.

With that said, it is time for all involved to seriously re-evaluate Earnhardt’s place in the sport. It appears as though the time has come to admit the driver’s talent level has been significantly overrated.

A glaring piece of evidence to confirm this comes from within his own team. Hendrick Motorsports fields cars for four drivers. And more, their satellite team, Stewart-Haas Racing, fields an additional two car team. Of those six total teams, five made the Chase for the Championship. Only Junior did not.

Not only did five of those six HMS/SHR cars make the Chase but they currently fill positions 1-4 in the standings. A team so dominate as to place cars in such strong title contending positions obviously has great equipment. Those other drivers have taken advantage of that equipment. Junior has not been able to capitalize on the very same advantages as his teammates which certainly provides reason to question his driving abilities.

HMS/SHR cars have accounted for 16 wins this season and 24 wins over the past two years. Junior has contributed only one of those victories, a fuel mileage stretch over a year ago in Michigan.

As noted, Junior failed to make the Chase this season. However, he did qualify for the playoff last year but managed only a 12th place finish in the championship run.

And worse, many of Earnhardt’s recent troubles have been self-inflicted. Crashes and his now infamous pit road drive-thru trips have cost him dearly. Also, some of the mechanical issues his cars have experienced this year might well have been caused by driver error. Broken transmissions and engines during pit stops and restarts are often caused by the driver, especially when that driver’s teammates rarely encounter the same problems. Junior suffered a broken transmission this past weekend in Charlotte.

Those who defend Junior to the last look to his 18 career Sprint Cup wins and his two Nationwide(Busch) Series championships as evidence of his talent. A closer examination of his Cup victories reveals that seven of those wins have come on one type of track, the big restrictor plate speedways. Many drivers are quick to point out that on those tracks the driver has the least impact a car’s performance than on any other type of venue.

As far as his Busch Series titles, Jeff Green, David Green, Johnny Benson, Steve Grissom and Chuck Bown were also Busch Series champions and none of them had much of a career in Sprint Cup racing. Winning on that series provides no guarantee of success at a higher level.

So what’s the problem with all of this? Well, NASCAR, the television networks, tracks and souvenir vendors have so much tied up in this one individual. And it is looking more and more like this individual does not have the ability to live up to the investment and expectations placed on him.

The bottom line is that those involved are at a point where a serious re-evaluation of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. should be soon at hand. This sport and its leaders have made many mistakes in recent years that are now coming back to haunt them. They have the empty seats and diminished television ratings to prove that. Placing so much trust in one individual may well be the one that hurts the most.

This column is not meant to tell anyone who to root for. However, any honest evaluation shows that anyone rooting for this particular driver should not have overly high expectations. It is also not meant as an attack. However, when one person is so much the focal point of a particular entity as Earnhardt is in NASCAR, the door is opened for constant grading and criticism. It just comes with the territory.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

Topics: Articles |

21 Responses to “It’s time for a serious Junior re-evaluation”

  1. John Jenkins Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 8:02 am

    For those of us not quite as taken by the name Earnhardt it is long passed time. Jr has never lived up to his father’s reputation which also has been overblown due to the way he died. Other than having a trophy wife for a step mother and a boss at one time what does he have that is worth talking about?

    It seems to me, obviously feel free to correct my recollection, prior to his death, Dale Sr. was disliked more than he was liked by his fellow drivers due to the way he would run over people. But when he died in such a heroic way, attempting to push a competitor out of his path, he suddenly became everyone’s best friend and the NASCAR icon.

    By the way doesn’t Lee Petty and some of his generation deserve to be in the NASCAR hall of fame so to speak?

  2. chad holt Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 10:27 am

    i very much disagree with the article and response. Dale sr. had many friends in the garage and helped many careers. Kenny Wallace, Ernie Irvan, Steve Park to name a few. Junior has won at tracks other than restrictor plate tracks, Atlanta, Richmond, Texas, Phoenix, Bristol, Chicago, Michigan. Also, Hendrick motorsports has a HISTORY of having a car struggling that runs test equipment. Ken Schrader with the budweiser sponsorship had 20 mechanical failures the last year with hendrick. Jerry Nadeau’s first win was a chassis they were testing for gordons team at the fall race in atlanta. do some research before you blame the driver for all the mechanical failures. look at the history

  3. Justin Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 11:28 am

    I am a Jr fan, and I certainly look at his driving talents with a biased opinion, but Jr has talent. He isnt his father, he isnt Gordon, Stewart, Johnson, Kryle, etc. Anyone that expects that from him is an idiot. He is a solid driver, not a great driver, and why is that a problem? Why does a driver have to win every race, to justify his fan base? He doesnt. The bandwagon fans (those that root for Gordon, and Johnson, and Kryle) feel that a driver isnt allowed to be popular unless he is in victory lane at least once every 3 races….

    The COT has more to do with Jr’s struggles than anything else. He just didnt “take” to the car like a duck takes to water. Even Jeff Gordon “struggles” with the car. How many titles does JG have with the new car?

    So, the fact that Jr is a good driver, not a great driver, the fact that he doesnt have a good feel for the new car, and there is essentially no testing to be able to obtain that “feel”, Jr is pretty much fighting a losing battle.

    As a fan, I know he will never win a title, but he isnt as bad as he looks right now…..

  4. mikeyfan5599 Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Rich, has it occured to you that Junior may be burned out on NASCAR? Speaking as a fan of the sport but far from a fan of Earnhardt Junior or Senior for that matter, I look at Dale and see a man who wishes he was doing something else. I think Dale is tired of the why aren’t you like your Daddy and all that his fans have thrusted upon him. I think a lot of Dale Sr fans still haven’t gotten over his death and are for some reason still point to Junior to carry on for Senior, to race like him, to put people in the wall because they upset you prior to the race etc.

    I think Dale Jr. would be happier running Whiskey River and running a few short track races in the area every once in a while than participating in the Cup series. I blame his fan and the media for burning him out on racing in the Cup series. It seems every interview there is at least one mention of his dad somewhere in the process and it is this constant comparison that is making him not care if he races or not.

  5. J.J. Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Not a JR fan, but I won’t go so far as to suggest he doesn’t have talent–he has after all, won his share of races, 18, which puts him pretty well up the ladder of wins on the Nascar scale.

    It’s a tough thing to be the son of someone who succeeded at the highest levels in sport. Few, if any (the Andretti family comes to mind) can match such achievements of their parent.

    JR has done okay though–he’s won the Daytona 500–which is the benchmark of any Nascar driver’s career and a bunch more races.

    He’s in a slump right now, but I’ll climb out onto a limb and predict that he’ll win some more races–maybe even one this year. And before he’s through, his win total will clock in a minimum of thirty.

    A title? Don’t know–too many things have to go right–but win again? Absolutely.

  6. Ginger Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Richard go over to ESPN and read Newton’s piece on what Tony Gibson says about Jr, Tony Jr, HMS, etc. I know it’s easier to just slap “Jr is overrated” in a piece and call it journalism, but David’s piece IS journalism. It always pays to do some research before you sling an article out.

  7. Tom Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    The only people who think Jr isn’t a good driver are the ones who know nothing about racing. Ask anyone involved with any level of Nascar and 99% will tell you he is more then able to win a championship.

  8. Marybeth Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if Junior switched to another owner and all of a sudden his driving skills and ‘good luck’ returned…? And I do not mean the #3 car.

  9. Overra88ted Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Pretty simple, a driver with God given average at best talent who has been over-hyped and overrated because of his name.

  10. JR Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Richard, you are 100% on the mark with your article. mikeyfan5599 may have a good point in his comments as well. When Junior is required to work hard for something, he is not as successful. Focus, hard work and communication are not Juniors strong points. If it does not come easy, he finds himself in positions like he’s in now. These are the three things that make him different from the other Hendrick drivers. While he is sleeping in, partying late and hanging out at his bar or riding four wheelers with his posse, the other guys are not. I think he’s just content to live large using the Earnhardt name as his ticket.

  11. Marcus Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Alright, Dale is not the greatest driver on the circuit right now. Neither is Jimmie Johnson. Driver talent has little to do with how you perform in this sport anymore. Im not saying any one can do it, Im saying that everyone of these guys has shown their talent at some level, thus everyone of them has about the same talent. Feel for the car differs in each driver, which has caused quite a few drivers to struggle, Earnhardt being one of them. Jimmie is good, but Chad Knaus and Ron Malec are what make that team great. Anyone with any credentials in the garage to evaluate Dale Jr’s talent continuasly reminds us that it isnt driver ability that is lacking on this team. So it kind of makes you sound king of dumb to say that we need to “re-evaluate” the drivers talent in this situation. I agree a lot of the lack of success may come from the drivers mental inability to be willing to work with too many CC’s, but as far as ability? C’mon. You reffered to Jr’s 7 restrictor plate wins in an attempt to bash his driving ability…I do believe that it is the driver that has to go out and put the car in position to lead laps and ultimitely win the race, even at ‘Dega and Daytona. Dale Jr insisted that it was not a lack of performance or equipment that drove him to leave DEI, but personal issues. Dale Jr really may have been taking a step back in equipment when he left DEI. When was the last time you saw the #25 team (predescesor to the #88) run well? Tim Richmond come to mind? That was the last time. Tony Gibson seem to put it best just recently… He said that things are just not meshing over there. The driver has little confidence in his crew, and the crew has little confidence in their driver. You have a race talk website, which would lead me to believe that you are a true NASCAR fan. You should know how much goes into the equation of a good race team. Chad Knaus and Ron Malec are the 2 hardest working guys in the garage. That is what makes the #48 team so good. Even more so, the top management if you will, of that team has not changed since it’s debut. Owner, Driver, Crew Chief, Car Chief have stayed constant. I’m not going to go and bash someone’s true talent because like you, I don’t have the credentials to do so. I will say there are some drivers that achieve way more credit than what they themselves should recieve. You have to look deeper than wins, championships, avg. finish, and points standings at the end of the year to really evaluate a drivers talent. You ought to know that.

  12. Dave Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Excellent article Rich. I think Jr is slightly better than his 22nd ranking but he’s not one of the top-caliber drivers. I don’t actually have any ill feelings towards Jr, he is who he is. I just think some of his fans need to back off the exaggerated claims of his talent and just root for him as he is.

  13. Chase Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    hit it on the nose. I’m not at all a fan of JR NATION, but I’ve seen some moves the guy has made when he has a good car.
    Jr is out of his comfort zone. He does not feel comfortable in the car, and he does not like being 4th in line. It is not completely his fault though. The 48 and 24 teams were already in motion when Jr came over there. Had they known the outcome of this year it is possible that Alan G might have been that teams Crew Chief, but who knows…how could you take a guy away from Mark and give it to Jr? Jr is not the focal point at this team and that is what he is used to. Top guy at DEI, low guy on the pole at HMS. Someone tell me how that is an upgrade in equipment? Only thing I can think of is the engine dept. I don’t pull for the guy, but I feel bad for him. If I’m him, I bring JR Motorsports to cup, Do whatever it takes to convince Eury Sr. to be the Crew Chief, put Eury Jr. back in the Car Chief spot, and build a group of guys under that, that have the talent and the passion to want to see Little E win. You add on the Hendrick Power plant alliance. Don’t tell me there is not a bunch of laid off crew member’s in the area, namely from the old 8 team. That would put Earnhardt’s mind at ease and right back into his comfort zone.

  14. earl lewis Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 7:21 am

    tony eury sr will, not leave DEI. he told dale jr, he was ignorant, for leaving DEI, what no one understands, is that dale sr, AND TERESA EARNHARDT , started DEI, everyone thought that teresa should have given over DEI to jr and his silly sister (kelly) .. that was not the case, the rest of the EARNHARDT family, besides, tony eury jr, is at DEI!!! kerry earnhardt, tony eury sr, and the bunch.. do you all see the problem here???? dale jr is just a PROBLEM where ever he goes, hes trouble!! and no tony eury sr, will not leave DEI !!!

  15. earl lewis Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 7:23 am

    dale jr is a top 25 driver.. no more no less, he cannot match ability, with his teammates, he is the 4th driver the CABOOSE, of the team!!!!

  16. Justin Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 8:03 am

    What are you talking about Earl???? Tony Eury Sr, is the Crew Chief, for the #88 car that Brad Keselowski drives in the Nationwide Series. I will break that down for you. That means that he works for Dale Jr, at JR Motorsports, not at DEI, Eury Sr left DEI long ago. So I find it hard to believe he told Dale Jr that he was ignorant for leaving, and then left along with him…….

  17. Justin Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Also, Dale Jr offered to buy majority ownership in DEI, and Teresa turned down his offer……

  18. mikeyfan5599 Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Justin: first your right about where Tony Sr is working but JR Motorsports is majority owned by Rick Hendrick, Second Teresa offered to give Junior 50.1% of the company. The condition was anything that he wanted to do with the company, outside of his race team, would have to go through a board of directors. Kelly turned it down. Kelly was the whole problem at DEI, and do you know why? Because Kelly is married to an employee of Rick Hendrick. Rick wanted Dale, not because of his driving skills, but because of the money he can bring in through sponsors and souviners.

    JR motorsports will never make it to cup because Rick will never sell his share of the company. Dale is upset because Rick is backing Tony and his team. People are saying Dale is 4th on his team. Think again he is 6th in the grand scheme of things, behind Tony and Ryan.

  19. Marybeth Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    RH has Jr. driving the R&D car for HMS and the R&D car usually finishes somewhere in the 20’s, think Casey and Brian.

    DATE: OCT. 17, 2009 (334 LAPS, 501 MILES)
    CHASSIS CHOICE: Interim crew chief Lance McGrew and the No. 88 engineers will unload Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-521 for this weekend’s 500-mile event at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. This chassis last was raced to a 27th-place finish at Pocono Raceway in June.”

    That makes this one of the old chassis that Tony Jr. made based on the specs he took from DEI in 2007. But with HMS making chassis for 6 cars you probably can’t expect more than 2 new chassis. And why wasn’t he driving one of the 2 new chassis instead of one this old/off? Was Brad driving one of them? Jr. has held up his end of their bargain, but it seems that the other end is not. Isn’t that breach of contract…?

    They said on Race Day that Kevin Harvick wants out of his ride, NOW. Maybe he and Jr. could just switch…?

  20. Larry Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Rich, you are obviously a JR hater. Matt Kenseth has the same number of wins as JR. Kurt Busch has 1 more win than JR. I guess we need to re-evaluate their talents since they have only won about the same amount of races. Also, how can you say JR’s recent troubles are self inflicted? I guess Reuteman and Newman hitting his car is his fault. A transmission failure is his fault. Quit trying to make a name for yourself off of JR.

  21. David Tucker Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    Definition of irony- one person accusing another of making a name for himself off of an Earnhardt.

    Sorry Larry, that one has already been done by…Junior.