Peers Say It’s Junior Time
Daytona Beach, Fla. – NASCAR’s “Junior Nation” can take heart in some of the comments coming out of the Preseason Thunder media sessions at Daytona International Speedway.
The general thinking among Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fellow drivers is that his sagging fortunes are headed for a turn-around.
Earnhardt finished 25th in points last year with two top-five and five top-10 finishes while his Hendrick Motorsports teammates swept the top three points positions and combined to win 13 races.
Mark Martin, whose No. 5 Chevrolet is prepared under the same Hendrick Motorsports roof as Earnhardt’s No. 88, said it’s mostly a matter of Earnhardt’s racing luck, which he says is bound to change soon. He said Earnhardt ran better than many realized last year, even though the final results indicated otherwise.
“They ran better than the 5 car in numerous races, but nobody really noticed because they got wrecked or something broke or whatever happened, happened,” Martin said. “They had a lot of things happen and go bad for them when they were faster than we were in the 5 car.
“They weren’t faster than us enough of the time. I think their hope would be to be 50 percent of the time faster than we were, and maybe we’d be faster than they were 50 percent of the time, and they weren’t there yet. So we’ve got to hopefully bring that up. But it won’t take an enormous amount of performance to get them in the hunt.
“And it will; everybody’s luck turns around. Nobody has got the horseshoe forever either. It goes both ways. And certainly Dale Jr. is due for some good days.”
Earnhardt said he senses some real change at his race shop, and a lot of it has to do with stability, especially when it comes to his crew chief Lance McGrew.
“It really wasn’t that long ago when we didn’t know what was going to happen with Lance,” said Earnhardt, referring to the “interim” label that McGrew carried until last fall at Talladega. “So the team, myself, everybody in the shop (was) unsure about the future of the team. And that just creates so much instability when you’re not sure about something that prominent.
So when he was able to solidify his position, and we could move forward knowing this was the deal, this is how it is, everybody sort of wrapped their minds and beliefs and trusts into that and around that, and we could sort of build back some confidence and some trust and belief in the team.”
Earnhardt said that based on his own observations and what he hears from McGrew, he has reason to believe that the new-found stability at the shop will translate into better results at the race track.
“Lance is telling me, being the guy that’s there every day, that it’s completely different, and he seems far more enthusiastic about the beginning of the season and what our chances are than I anticipated him feeling, if I had to guess at the end of last year,” he said. “I knew we would make some changes, and I knew we would try again at Daytona this year, but I feel even better now after just hearing him and understanding how much has changed, how much has really changed.
“It helps my confidence that we’ll be where we need to be.”
Jeff Gordon said that just getting Earnhardt’s mojo back will fix a lot of things for his teammate.
“ The (Hendrick) organization puts so much effort into every team and every car that the ingredients are certainly there,” he said. “I think that probably what’s left is just to get that confidence up. It happens with everybody. If the driver is confident, then the crew chief is confident, and if the crew chief is confident, the pit crew is confident. It just trickles all the way down.
“Hopefully all the hard work that they’re putting in over the off-season will help them get started off on the right foot and be able to not break that confidence down too early, because once you get it broken down, it’s hard to get it back.”
– Rick Minter can be reached at email@example.com Comments