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Woody: Another Junior-Free Chase

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 11 2010

Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains popular and doubtful for Chase. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Looks as though NASCAR’s playoffs will be missing its star driver again this year.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 26th-place finish at Watkins Glen last Sunday probably doomed his Chase chances. It dropped him two spots in the standings, down to 16th, with just four races left to crack the 12-man championship field.

In order to make it, Earnhardt would have to do well, while also counting on all four drivers ahead of him – Mark Martin (holding the 12th and final Chase spot) Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray to falter over the next four races. It’s not just the points, it’s the positions.

One might stumble, possibly even two. But the chances of all four fading are remote.

And that’s assuming that Junior is able to pick up the pace. He may have trouble even fending off Kasey Kahne, David Reutimann and hard-charging Juan Paul Montoya to preserve his current position.

An Earnhardt-less Chase is exactly what NASCAR doesn’t need right now amid sagging attendance and anemic TV ratings. Just as the PGA is absorbing the effects of its toothless Tiger, NASCAR better get used to the notion that its brightest star won’t be in title contention.

Of course part of the charm of the Chase is that Junior will still be on the track, racing and contending for wins, during those final 10 races. But for his fans, the playoffs will lack that special tingle.

Maybe they’re getting used to it.

Junior didn’t make the Chase last season, and the year before he squeezed in but was never a serious contender.

Forget championships – right now Earnhardt would settle for a victory. He managed a grand total of one in the past three seasons and is winless through 22 starts this year.

As was the case last year when his three Hendrick teammates finished 1-2-3 in the standings, Junior’s struggles this season are magnified by the success of his teammates. They aren’t as dominate as they were last season, but all three are in the Top 12 and currently Chase-eligible. Jeff Gordon is second, Jimmie Johnson fifth and Mark Martin 12th.

As the slump continues, so does the puzzle:

Why can three Hendrick drivers do so well while a fourth – Junior – does so poorly?

If anyone has any ideas I’m sure Rick Hendrick will welcome them. So will Dale Jr.

Whatever ails Junior and/or his team, nobody’s been able to fix it.

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

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 11 2010
21 Comments

21 Comments »

  • wildbill says:

    Dale Jr. would likely be changing tires on pit road if not for his name. He’s simply a novelty item in NASCAR. The best thing he can do for himself is to exit the sport. The pressure and stress of underachieving while at the same time being the biggest name will eventually catch up to him (his health). It would be a shame to see a good guy such as Dale Jr. ruin his health/life by continuing his current path to nowhere.

  • Matt inman says:

    Ive been a nascar fan for 10 years.I love the sport.Its a great sport but after Dale Earnhardts death nascar has went down hill.So the sport has the C.O.T …That is junk.The new nationwide C.O.T is a fan grabber..Nascar is doin everything they can to steal there fans back…They are in a whole that is so big they might not ever overcome it…People are losing interest becouse nascar is making it more visable that the sport is controlled..and money is how you win…Sponsers are to ..So Untill nascar fixes there rigging problem.The sport will die out in 5 yrs…Just watch and see..

  • Matt inman says:

    Nascar is rigged.Thats why earnhardt isnt winning.You see if your girlfriend doesnt call you for a week you would start to want her to bad …And then you would be more satified atfer she fanaully did.Thats what there (nascar) is doing they are making jr nation want him to win more than ever and wen he does it brings the sport to a new level..So thats there plan and its 110 percent working.Jr nation is wanting it so bad now its crazy.

  • scorer27 says:

    The only driver that is more overrated than Junior is Danica. He’s just not that good.

  • Dee says:

    Enough. You’re right MaryBeth, Nascar does need Jr in the chase. And Matt you talk about pressure, this young man deals with that everyday, just with his name. Have you listened to hot pass? Do you know how passionate he is about racing and how important the fans are. What other driver gets critized for everything and anything he says. But why don’t we talk about how long it been for other drivers who haven’t won races in years. How long has it been since Jeff Burton or Matt Kenseth? What about Slice Bread? Seems he can only win in the Nationwide Series. What’s with Kyle Busch? When he was running good he couldn’t shut up about JR. And Justin, why does he need to run in the truck series? Jr did make the comment a few weeks ago that he was going to check why the 88 & 5 were not getting the same information. I do believe there is a difference there.

  • Overra88ted says:

    JR. not making the chase? No surprise there! JR. with his God given average at best talent has never been an annual condenter for the Championship. Jr. has made ony 3 chases in 7 years. Dream on delusional Jr. Nation.

  • Marybeth says:

    In 2008 in the COT, Jr. won the Bud Shoot-out, one of the Duels, Michigian and was 2nd in points during the summer. I think that he can drive the COT.
    “An Earnhardt-less Chase is exactly what NASCAR doesn’t need right now amid sagging attendance and anemic TV ratings.” Then Nascar has to pony up and get Jr. out of HMS. I do not believe that Jr. will be competitive as long as he is at HMS. I believe that trusting Rick and signing a 5 yr.contract with HMS, which also required one half (not 49% or 20%) of JRM, was the biggest mistake of Jr.’s life. I guess the JRM part was required as insurance so that Jr. could not leave when he figured out that he would be driving the 25/88 rolling R&D car for the 24 & 48.

  • Richard Petersen says:

    Maybe a new whole team would do. Put Menard in the #88 for Hendrick Motorsports and move Dale Jr in with RCR? Obviously, the deal that Dale Jr, and Heandrick will never work. So I say, why not? At least in RCR, they give him what he needs to win, like what we saw at Daytona.

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    Dale, Jr. is not the only driver that will never be the driver his father was. I’m still a fan.

  • mikeyfan5599 says:

    When will the reporters and the “Nation” come to grips with the fact that NASCAR survived for years without an Earnhardt being prominate in the sport and will continue far after Dale Junior retires. To say he has to be in the chase is laughable at best. When you compare what the ratings and audience is today compared to what they were 10/15 years ago, NASCAR is healthy and doing well. But of course when you get used to a certain amount of money coming in and if drops a little everyone panics. Also, look at the attendence. You can say that this track or that track wasn’t full, but it still had over 100,000 people. Do you know how many tracks could seat 100,000 people 15 years ago? Not many Tracks that were on the schedule like North Wilksboro could hold maybe 50,000. Martinsville, is scarry for losing a race because it only holds like 60,000. So when you look at attendence and compare it to 15 years ago there are no comparisons.

    This sport is not about Dale Junior, it isn’t even about one driver, never has been, but too many people still have that “I feel sorry for Junior because of what happened to his daddy” Complex and it’s about time it is gotten over.

    So be a reporter and write about the events and not about NASCAR can’t afford to have Junior miss the chase. Right Now NASCAR can’t afford to have him in the chase. Why, because then everyone would realize the favortism NASCAR plays to Junior and HMS in particular.

  • Tim Bob says:

    Your lead sentence makes reference to Jr. being NASCAR’s “star driver.” That’s accurate, I suppose, but I’m wondering for how long. While virtually everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, maybe Jr. shouldn’t be the “star driver” of NASCAR based on his ongoing lack of performance. He’s a great guy and his dad was clearly special, and we can discuss the reasons for his poor performance ’til we’re all blue in the face — but no one can rationally argue his lack of overall results since joining Hendrick….his mostly sub-par performance based solely on his record the last couple years. It just seems that, at some point, performance (and admittedly some other factors as well) have to be the indicators of which drivers are stars. As Sgt. Joe Friday from “Dragnet” used to put it — “just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.

  • D. Macleod says:

    The Hendrick 25 (88) team is cursed. Tim Richmond haunts the shop. I’m only kidding about the second part. No one has been successful in that car.

  • Ken Fleming says:

    Maybe it’s because Jr. can’t drive the COT yhat he’s not in the chase….Again. He has lots of fans and very little talent.

    • Terry L. Headley says:

      “Little talent?”
      Exactly what rock have you been living under? Two Nationwide championships (back-to-back mind you) and some 30 odd victories in the two series, including 18 in Cup … Daytona 500 winner, etc.
      Here’s a thought… crawl back under the rock and cozy up to your little Jeff Gordon doll … or maybe it is Kyle Busch inflatable … and get a life!
      Better yet, take your whiny little behind over to the pretty boys at F1! Nascar doesn’t need you. It DOES, however, need the Junior Nation and the Earnhardt family.
      Jeez! Get out the nets because there is room for another one in the looney bin.

  • Steve says:

    Its always something that ails Jr. The car, the crew chief, a wall getting in the way. When are people finally going to realize that Jr is just not that good of a driver and doesn’t have nearly the will his father had. Maybe if he had someone kicking him in the rump every now and then, he might want it a little more, but he doesn’t. Right now he seems to be content with mediocrity and his side projects when he’s not racing.

  • justin says:

    I agree with Ray, the numbers dont lie. In the old style car, Jr was a legit contender, he won 6 races in 04. But ever since the COT came into play, Jr has been dreadful more often than average, and he has rarely been better than average, so there you go. I am not a race car driver, but I can only imagine that if you are NEVER comfortable, you cant push the limits of the car. He has shown flashes, which leads me to believe that when the car is to his liking, he still has the ability to race, but if the car is even remotley “off”, he just cant make up for it.

    Not to go down the, Jr never gets blamed road, but I have listened to the scanner many many many times, and I like how McGrew handles Jr, tries to keep him focused, doesnt take it personal, etc, I am not sure he is the guy for Jr. The only reason I say that, is Jr doesnt have any confidence in McGrew’s adjustments. Jr will tell him, for example, its loose in, tight in the center, but the exit is perfect, dont mess up the exit. After a pit stop (in which he loses 4 positions) he runs 4 laps and gets back on the radio, and says the loose in the same, the tight in the center is a little better, but now I lost the drive off the exit….In Pocono 2 weeks ago, he was giving feedback, and I dont remember the exact quote, but basically, Jr said: “Do whatever you want to the car, (dont even tell me what you are doing), because I dont expect it is going to fix anything”.

    Again, Jr is certainly not blamless. I think he should run truck races as often as his Cup schedule will allow, simply to get a better handle on the Cup car. If I am not mistaken, the Cup car used the Truck as a platform to build off of. He should be able to find Victory Lane, get some confidence, learn the handle of the vehicle, etc….It seems pretty obvious with the new car, he needs seat time, and the testing policy limits that (which doesnt make sense, because drivers are always talking about going to test)

  • Matt says:

    Everyone needs to face reality: Either Jr. just does not have it, or the man does not have the cajones to deal with the pressure (which is really similar to the first thing). You have got to stop blaming it on everyone else. Jr needs to look in the mirror to find the problem. Maybe seeing a shrink would get him past the final ‘maybe’ about the pressure. That would just leave us with the final reality, that he’s just not as good as JJ, gordon, kenseth, Edwards, heck even Ruetimann, etc! Stop the blame game Sr fans, oops I mean Jr fans. He’s not now nor will he ever be his daddy. I miss Sr too, not a fan but the guy brought a certain excitement to racing. Jr doesn’t have that personality/talent/whatever you want to call it.

  • Ray Saloomey says:

    Frankly, I just think Junior hasn’t – and possibly can’t – come to grips with the COT.

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  • Doug says:

    Hmmm…

    Maybe, just maybe. Earnhardt is not as good as people think.

    Many sons of great legends have not lived up to anywhere near their Dad’s success. Marco Andretti (who is still young though) and Larry Foyt come to mind. Nelso Piquet Jr is another.

    Or Maybe the expectations are SO high that it’s stunting his success. The pressure of expectation is SO high how could anybody not be affected by it? Is NASCAR so dependent that Jr. has no choice?

    Maybe the best thing Jr. could do is take a break and do what HE wants to do rather than what his fans want.

    • Celeste says:

      Dale Jr. was indicted by his own words. In a recently published article, he responded to a question regarding Jimmie Johnson’s success on the track. Junior responded by saying that Johnson weighs everything he does with how it will affect him in his racecar…that he (Junior) would have to change how he lives his life, and that ” I’m just not willing to put that much effort in to it.” Well that, for me- a long time Junior fan- just about sums it up. With that attitude, Junior will not only never win a championship, he may very well never win another Cup race.