Home » FEATURE STORY, NASCAR - Sprint Cup Series

Woody: This Earnhardt Jr. Thing Is A Head-Scratcher

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 13 2009
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had yet another bad day on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.   (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had yet another bad day on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer

For awhile I wrote it off as just some sort of weird coincidence.

I don’t any more.

It can’t be mere coincidence that week after week, race after race, three Hendrick Motorsports drivers do so well while a fourth flounders.

It happened again Sunday in California. Jimmie Johnson won the race. One of his teammates, Jeff Gordon, was second. A third teammate, Mark Martin was fourth.

The fourth teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was 25th.

Granted, Junior got caught up in a wreck. That seems to happen often to Earnhardt this season. Or he has a bad pit stop. Or the engine blows. Or the sun gets in his eyes. It’s always something.

That’s why his three teammates all are in contention for a championship while Junior never came close to even making the Chase.

Earnhardt’s persistent struggle is the biggest puzzle in NASCAR, and it grows more mysterious with each Junior flop and each Johnson-Gordon-Martin success.

There’s not just a gap between Junior and his three teammates – there’s a Grand Canyon. An abyss. It’s like they’re not even in the same league.

I don’t believe it’s lack of effort and desire on Earnhardt’s part. Anyone who’s been around him knows that Junior is aware of who he is and of the legacy he inherited. He seems driven to win.

So why can’t he?

Is he getting short-changed on equipment or support? It’s hard to believe that boss Rick Hendrick would stand by and permit that to happen. Surely he knows that he possesses the single most valuable commodity in NASCAR – Dale Jr.’s popularity – and if Junior could start winning his value would go through the roof.

I’m convinced that Earnhardt is trying hard.

I can’t believe that Hendrick is short-changing him.

Yet I don’t believe that what we continue to see race after race this season is just some amazing coincidence. Why do three Hendrick drivers continue to soar while a fourth continues to sink?

Something’s wrong somewhere. But where?

If even one of the other three drivers were struggling like Earnhardt it wouldn’t be so puzzling. But when all three are sizzling, it magnifies Junior’s misery – and NASCAR’s biggest mystery.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 13 2009


  • your mom says:

    Junior = average driver. He is a piece of garbage both o n& off the track

  • John says:

    It may take talent and luck to win race’s and be in the top 5 week after week, and racing fans can pick a driver apart but I believe that 85% of a drivers success is how good the crew chief is. If you look through history at any driver that had success look at their crew chief and just how good they were.Alot of success has to do with the man making the calls in the box.Look at the success for the 48 team. Chad is a very good chief that has got fined for infractions. However is always pushing the limits and from what I can see is trying to always improve. Thats what it takes end of story.

  • John says:

    The way I see it is that their is only 5-8 drivers that have a chance to win every week year after year. So the other 35 drivers feel the field. Dale has been one of those other drivers for awhile. Everyone knows he isn’t going to have the success his father had. So what, people mouth because he is not doing well. Maybe there is more to it then just talent. No one really knows, Dale is a good driver and in time will bounce back. However if he does’nt he still has won many race’s maybe half at plate tracks but half were at other tracks. The money and fame if you ask me talent or not I’d be laughing all the way to the bank which I am sure he is Go Dale.

  • phyllis hamilton says:

    It was Ryan Newman that ran Jr. to the wall and Newman’s bumper broke the stem valve on Jr’s tire.He had a tire going down before Sadler hit him.This is what they said on sirius radio.When you are going that fast,I’m sure that the drivers can’t make plans to not get hit.There is a lot of luck involved,just like in other sports.Jeff Gordon said some days,it’s better to be lucky than good.Jr. has had nothing but bad luck since moving to HMS.I also feel that Mr. H got Mark Martin and forgot about Jr.

  • hazel says:

    Hendrick the best equipment..best pit crew every thing he need’s thats what he said oil belt breaks engine failure lug nut loose get real is this really the best of hms don’t any body think that Jr is wondering too what is going on. Jr can drive he has proven that he’s not his dad but who else out there drives like dale he was one of a kind Jr has my support Hendrick seen a chance to take Jr built him up and now he is letting him fall wish Jr would have went with Childress may be taht is just my excuse for Jr but i don’t now or never will like hendrick gordon or johnson they treated Jr just like they treated busch no help race on Jr !!!

  • phillip says:

    if you look at dale’s stat’s he is better every other year..but i am a mark “the kid” martin fan now that jr sucks poorly. maybe keselowski should take dale’s ride and let dale goto penske

  • John says:

    I believe that Junior is a talented driver. I also believe that people that say racing at restrictor plate tracks takes no talent need to put their butts in the seats and attempt to race with 42 other cars and see how much talent it does take. The biggest thing that is hurting Junior is confidence, it’s been shaken a bit, but I believe that he will gain it back and be competitive again. One thing I do know, the other three drivers and the owner believe in him, and that speaks volumes.

  • H Risher says:

    Get over it—“Ironhead JR” is just NOT that talented,patient,or skilled as a driver! The only races he really ran well at were those plate races where you just point the car ,and if it has more horsepower you win! JR probably had a “BIG PLATE”. Nascar can’t really help Jr like in the past because all the powerful Hendrick group would find out and want a BIG PLATE too! So,given EQUAL EQUIPMENT with Martin,Johnson,and Gordon—JR sucks with no Nascar help! GET OVER IT–HE’s not 1/10 of the Driver his Dad was–the APPLE FELL FAR FROM THE PROVERBAL TREE!

    • L Maynard says:

      You obviously don’t like JR. But you a fool if you believe Nascar gave JR. a bigger plate than everyone else. DEI had the best plate program in Nascar at the time. That is why Michael Waltrip won the plate races at the same time. Jr. has won on every type of track in Nascar except road races. Explain that one…a “bigger plate” doesn’t help at Dover, Phoneix, Bristol, Chicago, Rockingham, Texas, etc.

  • Bobby Bouchet says:

    I find it simply amazing that all of the haters fail to realize that JR has more wins than Kenseth and BOTH Bush brothers.As far as all of the comments about the plate races and it all comes down to the car I guess Roush builds crappy cars because his drivers hardly ever win on a plate track The same goes with Penske. Jr did not luck into those wins he flat dominated them anyone remember four in a row at Dega? Jr may have lost his motivating force to drive but rest assured he has not lost the ability.I would guess anyone who watched their dad die doing the same job as they do would have doubts about doing that job.If an electrician watched his dad get electacuded he would certainly have doubts and that guy’s dad was not DALE Earnhardt,the best ever so if the best can die would it not cause you to think about youre own mortality.And finally about the idiot who said he could avoid accidents if he was paying attention I race 410 sprints on a half mile dirt track flat out we run 140 maybe,you have so little time to react in a crash and there are so many variables that it is next ti impossible to predict where a wrecked car is going to go to even miss one out of every five is a good average.Please people think about what you say before blindly making comments that you are in no position to comment on in the first place.

  • Jim R. says:

    Trying hard and giving 110% effort don’t help if you lack the talent to get the job done. My dad was a very good singer but all the effort in the world won’t make me a good one. Yes, everyone out there will say Junior has 18 wins so he has the talent. About half the wins came at restrictor plate tracks, where driver talent is a non-factor. Everyone in the field has enough talent to win but it’s the car that needs to be right at plate tracks…that, and a little luck. Junior has also won at other tracks. He won a Michigan two years ago by passing the pace car 3 times under caution so he could coast to a fuel mileage victory. Junior is popular for being popular and writers will write about him to tap into and perpetuate that popularity.

  • Ralph says:

    wow…there always seems to be some type of excuse for Jr…maybe it really is the fact he’s not that great of a driver…notice i said great. he was better when he was in Busch and now that he’s being questioned on mental toughness, Teressa looks more and more like she was spot on with her comments towards him years ago. and yes..overshooting your pits is solely on the driver and no other excuse.

  • Rick says:

    Come on, there is no mystery here. It should be obvious to anyone that has any knowledge of racing. Dale Jr. is just not that good. Take a breath everyone, the truth can be hard to hear. Dale Jr. gets the same stuff that Johnson, Gordon and Martin get every week. When Lance McGrew took over, they actually took cars from the 48,24 & 5 and made them 88 cars.

    Granted, Jr. has had some good runs foiled by bad luck, but so have a lot of other mid pack drivers. Dale Jr. is not Dale Sr. and he will never have the success his old man did. Remember Kyle Petty?

  • Geezer says:

    No head scratcher here, Jr just doesn’t have the talent.

  • J.J. says:

    Okay, I think there’s an easy explanation of why JR is doing so poorly these days.

    Besides NOT be Dale Sr (JR was never that guy), I think two things point to his decline:

    1. Skills. Like other sports, a race driver’s skill erodes over time. Their reactions are off a tick, their ability to see, their concentration drops. Sometimes this happens from one season to the next, sometimes it’s sudden, sometimes slow. I think this is what has happened to JR. His skill, his ability to win is still there, but not at the level it needs to be to be great. Now he’s mortal again, good enough to win if circumstances (hence his flashes of the old JR from time to time) allow, but not good enough to be consistent. It happens that way…


    2. Equipment and Mindset. JR hasn’t made the adjustment to the equipment. When you listen close to what he says you’ll hear him moan and groan about the COT. But everybody has the same stuff and they’ve adapted (though like JR, it too Jeff Gordon awhile to adjust), so it may well be that JR can’t quite grasp what it takes to make the COT behave like he likes.

    There’s my reasons for JR’s troubles.


    I will say, he’s still good enough to win and will–he’s got probably five years left before he packs it in. And he’ll win a few more races before that happens.

  • Ken says:

    I think Jr. has a probem with concentration for the entire race. That would account for many of the accidents. The accidents are not his fault but he could avoid many if he was concentrating more on the drivers near him so he could take appropriate action. I think some of the blown engines are due to missed shifts and the problems in the pits are the lack of attention to detail.

    • lyn says:

      How can he avoid more of them when other drivers can’t even avoid them themselves? Your wrong about the engines the last one was cause an oil belt flew off of it thats the HMS equipment thats suppose to be top notch. And the two other engines that blew werent Juniors fault Lance made it clear about that during a radio interview. I wish people would get there facts straight before they say something. The ongoing problems in the pit are the pit crew Junior doesnt get out of his car and put his own tires on unfortunately he has to depend on others to do that that dont have a clue. I hope they seriously reevaluate that pit crew at the end of the season.

  • Chris says:

    Looking over the past 3 seasons for Jr. no one has mentioned that possibly mentally he has not recovered from the fire in the Grand-Am race he was in..Maybe that has added some doubt in his mind while in the car

    • lyn says:

      I disagree Junior just said on nascar live with Eli Gold that the fire has nothing to do with any of it he said he won Bristol and Talladega after that. What bothers me and I dont mean you but reporters and some fans etc. that write a story but yet don’t hear all the interviews that are said but jump to conclusions without hearing all the facts that sometimes the fans do.

      • Dennis says:

        Think about it. Who pulled Jr. from the fire. (Daddy) Daddy is telling Jr move on. Jr knows he made a big mistake. RCR is the move jr has to make. He can’t win with hendrick.RCR will buy out DEI and turn it over to Jr. Then Jr will take the Earnhardt name to a higher level.

  • Chuck says:

    While I agree it’s a head-scratcher, this certainly isn’t a new phenomenon.

    Ask Terry Labonte, Casey Mears, Kyle Busch, and Brian Vickers how hard it is working in the back of the Hendrick stable. At one point, they were all in the #25 shop, and Busch didn’t start having success until he moved to the #5 shop. Junior got the old #25 team, and is struggling to finish on the lead lap. Mark Martin got the old #5 team, and is contending for a title. And he’s performed so well, he just got an extension that pushed Keselowski to Penske.

    You have to wonder if good ole Rick took advantage of Junior’s predicament with Teresa and DEI, and grabbed up Junior just to keep him (and his sponsorship money) off the open market. Johnson and Gordon don’t have to worry about competing against Jr., and Rick’s long-time friend Mark Martin gets the better equipment. He also gets the free publicity of the feel-good stories about Martin finally getting a title. Rick Hendrick didn’t get his money and success on sentimentality and loyalty (alone); he’s a shrewd businessman as well.

    • Chad says:

      Well Jr. certainly is not getting the best equipment since the chase started. Him and Martins cars come from the same shop, one is going for a Championship, one isn’t even in the top 20, that’s a no brainer where to focus your resources. I think the biggest explanation is simply that its really just that hard at the top level. Look at Kyle Busch, he had a dominating year last year and isn’t even competitive right now. He has the nerve to publicly say “I don’t know why everyone cheers for a guy doesn’t win” about Jr. yet has just shown how fast you can become just another car driving around out there. He seems to forget Jr. used to see just as much success as him and that his fate will be no different. Hell, even Gordon struggles to get to victory lane these days and Edwards who topped Kyle last year in total wins has been non-existent. It’s more luck then skill at this level. No mistake and the right setup will get you in contention, but it comes down to luck and chance that you win a race.

    • John says:

      I think there is alot of truth to what you said. Good post. I think Dale should bring jr motorsports to the cup side and race his own stuff.

  • Danielle, 14 says:

    Its easy enough to see that three races ago David Ruetimann wrecked, two races ago he got caught on pit road under caution and hen lapped again. One race ago he wax running 9th with 6 laps to go and Elliott Sadler and Matt Kenseth screwed up on how the draft works there for wrecking the lead car of that draft.

    Most of it is explainable. But it still makes fans and haters alike wonder why its always Junior.

    To be honest at this point I am willing to tell anyone who wrecks him or screws up on a pit stop off.

    Its amazing how most of what happened this season was someone elses doing. Not everythin just a lot of it.

  • holmes says:

    Perhaps Dale should adopt Mark Martin’s workout regimen.

  • Ian Dunross says:

    Does that say “Senior Writer”?
    Granted Dale Jr, has had more than a bad season. But to claim more than coincidence? Are you kidding? How on earth could being run over on a re-start or being taken out at New Hampshire have anything to do with equipment support? A bad green flag pit stop at Kansas is typical of Dale Jr’s bad season. In my opinion this season has taken it’s toll on the whole team. Mistakes are bound to happen. The 88 car has been running well for the last few races and Dale Jr’s confidence is just starting to come back.
    I am curious why, with all the stories out there you chose to write about Dale Jr.? Interesting how you can shed blame on him for being taken out twice.
    Very interesting.