Junior’s excuses are getting oldWritten by Dave Woolford | | email@example.com
It’s a nation in turmoil.
Civil unrest could become prevalent.
Finger pointing and finger waving are taking over where reliability once reigned.
It’s cousin vs. cousin.
This all because the nation’s exalted leader is in the throes of futility.
It’s getting pretty close to the deadline in regard to a conclusive reality check and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his Junior Nation have resorted to processed, overcooked excuses with high levels of baloney and low levels of racing nutrition.
Junior has lapped the field in terms of popularity among NASCAR fans. But there’s this nagging thought that is becoming a footnote to his unrivaled fame … why?
Stuck for an answer? So is Junior, in his second year on the best team in NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, which also includes three-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon and ever-popular veteran Mark Martin.
“When you put yourself at Hendrick Motorsports, you’re in the best equipment and you should win races,” Earnhardt admitted recently. “If you don’t, that really sort of makes for a hard argument that you had any business being there in the first place.”
Refreshingly put. Sincerity, if not habitual winning, has always separated Earnhardt from a lot of his contemporaries. His demeanor and popularity are things NASCAR can’t do without. But the son of a NASCAR champion and unrivaled legend has been anything but intimidating.
The sad truth is that since joining the Hendrick team at the start of last season, he has only one win in 49 races, and that came at Michigan International Speedway (MIS) last June. A repeat at MIS when the NASCAR circus returns might be the lift needed for Junior Nation and its pop idol to finally justify its self-proclaimed eminence. That victory at MIS was only Earnhardt’s third in the last four seasons.
Front-line equipment, front-line marketability and a front-line team. What more could Junior ask for? So why is he sometimes near the back of the line as he was in the recent Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway where he finished 40th? That dropped him to 19th in the Sprint Cup Standings. And why did his teammates, Gordon, Johnson and Martin, rank second, third and 12th in the Sprint Cup standings heading into Pocono, while Junior lingered in 18th? His co-workers also have a total of five victories. To take it one step further, Tony Stewart happens to be leading the Sprint Cup point standings and he’s driving what can be termed a satellite Hendrick car.
The Junior Nation lobby might be the most influential in motor sports, but it’s quickly running out of rationalizations. The Nation’s latest claim, among a litany of imprecise enlightenments, was that team owner Rick Hendrick had to change crew chiefs, replacing Earnhardt’s cousin and forever confidant, Tony Eury Jr. with someone, anyone. There was actually some legitimacy connected to that.
Hendrick made the move following the Coca-Cola 600.
Hendrick before the race: “I am 100 percent behind this group. I have no intentions of making any changes.”
Hendrick after the race: “It seemed the harder we pushed, the more it unraveled. We need a new reason to get up and go to the track each morning, and the chemistry had broken down between them to the point where we just needed a fresh start.”
Lance McGrew has become Junior’s new crew chief. Good luck, Mr. McGrew.
Earnhardt’s recent relationship with Eury Jr. was not of the “Kissin’ Cousins” variety. It was more like the, Hissin’ Cousins alliance. Their comfort level with each other reportedly became edgy. Any disagreement and the two went in opposite directions, each nurturing his own hissy fit.
“Maybe the truth is that we just aren’t meant to do it together,” Earnhardt disclosed. “That’s tough to admit, and even tougher to believe.”
Again, refreshingly put.
Leave it to the always-provocative Kyle Busch to insert a prod into the situation at Dover when he calmly claimed, “It’s never Junior. It’s always the crew chief.”
It’s Junior now.
He’s down to his last exemption, despite what his Nation claims, and those assertions are getting more and more senseless. For instance, one Nation addict accused Hendrick of giving Earnhardt’s cars to Martin, the newest member of Hendrick Motorsports. And then there’s the one about Earnhardt Jr. never really recovering mentally from a serious crash and fire while driving a Corvette in a sports car race in 2004.
Junior’s Nation has turned hard on Eury, quick to brush aside the fact that Eury had nothing to do with Dale Jr. sliding through his pit stall, missing it altogether and inadvertently causing wrecks, all of which has happened on more than one occasions this season.
The accountability can no longer be passed on down the line. It rests solely with Dale Earnhardt Jr. His focus has probably been blurred by his many outside interests, such as JR Motorsports, a TV production company, Whisky River, a new restaurant in Charlotte, N.C., and the maintenance of his pop idol, MTV personification among others.
The heritage thing has pretty much run its course. Blood lines don’t come with guarantees.
Junior must forge his own future and decide to be the successful race car driver he demonstrated he was earlier in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career or choose another career path.
Albert Einstein once described insanity as, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Earnhardt Jr. has one remaining do-over. It’s down to him. No one else.