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Earnhardt Jr. Says Turnaround Is Just Around the Corner

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 14 2009
A bad season got worse for Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Monday at the Watkins Glen road course.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

A bad season got worse for Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Monday at the Watkins Glen road course. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in Atlanta this week, promoting the upcoming Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It’s part of the obligations that fall on recent race winners in NASCAR. Each track gets a day’s time from recent winners to use to promote upcoming races. As bad as Earnhardt’s racing fortunes have been for the past season or so, it’s sometimes easy to forget that he’s still part of the Winner’s Circle program.

He last won at Michigan International Speedway, where he’ll be racing this weekend.

He recalled that day last June at Michigan where he and his then-crew chief Tony Eury Jr. executed a winning fuel-mileage strategy.

“We were kind of struggling on fuel mileage, trying to make it last, make it work,” Earnhardt recalled. “It was a pretty exciting day. (Team owner) Rick (Hendrick) was there. Everybody was pumped up. The Victory Lane celebration was really fun. Everybody seemed to enjoy it.”

But somewhere shortly thereafter, the fun began to fade. He heads back to Michigan this week 25th in the points standing with just one top-five finish this season.

He said that performance-wise, he’d give himself and his team a “pretty low grade” for the races since that Michigan triumph, the 18th of his Cup career.

“We haven’t accomplished even a fraction of what we intended to accomplish,” he said. “We’ve had to go through some pretty trying times. Some difficult decisions were made. Some pretty stressful weekends occurred. We worked through them the best we could.”

The most difficult change was a crew chief swap that saw his cousin Tony Eury Jr. replaced by Hendrick veteran Lance McGrew.

Earnhardt said he believes the worst is about to be behind him.

“There’s been a light at the end of the tunnel working with Lance,” he said. “I see there’s an opportunity for us to have some break-through runs. I see that there’s an opportunity to turn our program around. We’ve had some pretty decent race cars in last month or two and had pretty poor luck.

“I personally feel like it’s repairable and fixable, but it’s been tough to deal with.”

That’s not to say that Earnhardt has been miserable the whole time. On the contrary, he said his off-track life is giving him lots of satisfaction.

“I’ve got a lot of good things going for me at home, in my personal life,” he said. “The things that I’m occupied with throughout the week are going better and keep getting better.”

He has several projects to occupy his time and his mind. There’s his bar in Charlotte, Whiskey River, and lots more as well.

“I tore down my old house, and I’m in the process of building a new one,” he said. “That’s been an experience.”

He also seems to have inherited his father’s love of the land.

“I have 300 acres that I’m always working on, doing little projects,” he said. “I sort of mold out how I want it. That takes a long time. That’s been fun doing that.”

Lately he’s added a covered wooden bridge over a creek that flows through his spread.

“It’s like one you’d see on an old calendar,” he said.

His next addition likely will be a windmill, and the property already has a pond on it.

“It’s got a lot of neat little nooks on it,” he said. “I’m trying to turn it into a real pretty place. It’s a piece of property that I think my family, particularly my father, would be proud of.”

He’s also built some bridges, so to speak, at work. He continues to enjoy his relationship with his car owner and with his teammates.

“I’m getting to know my teammates better,” he said. “I would never had that opportunity racing against them. Working with Mark (Martin) has been great, being around him. He’s a great supporter and has really been helpful.”

Earnhardt also takes satisfaction from the way he’s handled himself throughout an unexpected rough stretch in his career.

“This has been a trying season,” he said. “I didn’t know how I would handle a season like this or what would happen if I ran like this.

“I’m proud of how I handled it. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought to handle. I’m almost at the end of it. I feel like this is a temporary phase. I don’t think this is what the rest of my career is going to be like.

“We’re working to turn it around.”

And he said that despite the struggles, he still very much loves what he does for a living.

“I feel fortunate every week to be able to climb into the race car and be able to do what I want to do,” he said. “You want the ability to produce. You want to go out there and win, but no matter how competitive I am, I’m still thankful to have that opportunity.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 14 2009
17 Comments

17 Comments »

  • [...] is kind of what Dale Earnhardt Jr. was telling colleague Rick Minter in Atlanta last week and then others in the garages at Michigan over the [...]

  • Bill says:

    Junior is in a re-invention mode. The more he and McGrew can work together the more he learns about the right kind of communication he needs to make during the race. Also McGrew is not family and therefore Dale can relax and not feel intimidated, by history, to control his cousin. I think this change is the best that could have happened to his team. While I do realize this years chase is not gonna happen for him, he is taking the opportunity to regroup and rebuild with an excellent attitude. I have read the terms “has-been”, “never-was” and “wannabe” in describing him. This is the first time he has had where he can just be real about what he’s doing. No family issues, no family on the team, no administrative games (like DEI played on him in his final season; bad engines, bad setups and poor esprit de corps on his crew), plus now he’s got a zero sum clean slate team to build from. Don’t count him out, maybe next year they should paint his car like the rising phoenix he’s going to be. I still have faith in him, as long as he can get his focus focussed…

  • Doobie says:

    Junior or no Junior, the #88 car is the #25 car renumbered. It hasn’t been a consistent frontrunner since the early 1990s.

    • Doobie says:

      Brian Vickers, who just won at Michigan, was criticized for leaving a certain team…guess which one?

  • earl lewis says:

    next yr jr will have to come out STRONG, winning races, and knocking down top 2 FINISHES(if he cannot win) i think amp/ energy drink became jr’s sponsor as a favor for jeff g. im sure by this time next yr, if the results DO NOT TAKE A 360 TURN, BRAD K MAY BE THE NEW DRIVER FOR THE 88 CAR IN 2011. IF THE SPONSOR MAKES THE FATEFUL CALL TO RICK H, HE HAS TO DO , WHAT THEY SAY. EVEN IF IT IS A ‘EARNHARDT’

  • HotRod says:

    This article is great. Every great driver has had bad seasons!!! You Jr. haters are actually funny to leason to and read your rambling, and pointless comments on how he’s done, finished, etc. I believe Mr. Earndhart Jr. is going to be shuting all the critics up pretty soon. Plus, If you had all of that money, wouldn’t you start your own buisnesses and projects too? If you say no, your a bad liar.

  • Joe says:

    Junior will step it up, AMP and Nat Guard wont put up with the poor performance forever..its not all him either. hes blown a motor hes lost the brakes

    I cant begin to imagine the pressure hes under to do well..

    • LadyH says:

      Amp won’t be leaving Jr anytime soon – their sales have more than tripled since they became his sponser. He doesn’t have to win races for his loyal fans to continue to support him and his sponsers. I am glad that Jr is finding satisfaction in his personal life and that he has a positive attitude of what is in store with his race team.

  • Paul W. says:

    I think it isnt fun for him anymore. he has too much pressure to win. when he left DEI for Hendricks everyone expected him to blow everyone away, everyone being fans and most importantly sponsors. that hasnt happened so i am sure the heat is on at Hendricks for him to win. if he could just go out and race and not think about wrecking the car or blowing an engine. i think he would do alot better.

  • Karen says:

    Nice article, Rick! Thank you.

    As for the usual haters and so-called ex-fans, please give it a rest. We get it. You’re disappointed or you don’t like him or his fans. If it bothers you so much, then don’t click on the articles about him. It’s not rocket science.

    I think his fans deserve the right to be able to read an article without the constant whining and attacks from haters. I know it’s a free country but really, it’s getting old. I don’t care for Kyle Busch in the least but the last thing I do is click on articles about him, pro or con, and then bash him. Why would I want to do that? He has fans and supporters and I don’t have a problem with that. Why don’t you try it? It’s not difficult to ignore someone you don’t care for, and the people who do like him will appreciate your restraint.

    I know this will fall on deaf ears but I feel like venting. I’m tired of the act.

  • Walt says:

    We have been fans ond supporters of Dale Jr. since the early days. We did so because of his apparent ability and dedication to the sport. He held great promise. Being objective, like some fans, we don’t see that promise that was one there. He is a good man, but as a driver he is just average. He has the ability but not the edge to be a champion. For the past 4 years he has constantly complained about how he couldn’t get the job done. He has not had anyone tell him that if the car handles poorly, drive it anyway. If there’s a crew change, deal with it. He is paid to do his job, the best he can , with what is given him. We continue to support him but his best days are behind. We remember Dale Jr “Back in the Day”.

  • Jim R. says:

    Junior is still in the Winners Circle Program because he won a fuel mileage race that was achieved by his breaking the rules and having NASCAR give him a pass on the infractions. To refresh everyone’s memory, Junior passed the pace car 3 times under caution, which is a rules violation. Doing so enabled him to build up speed so he could shut off his engine and coast, allowing him to save fuel. Since the pace car runs at a constant speed under caution, the other cars where unable to coast as far, since they could not build up any speed.
    You have written a sweet little article creating a warm, fuzzy feeling for Juniors fans. Given what they have had to cheer about for the last several years, I feel bad having to bring them down.

  • millie jo says:

    Thank you for your great article on Dale Jr. It’s hard to know what is really going on with him since the main focus has been on the wining drivers. It is great to know he still has a good attitude and feels like this is only a temporary setback. His true fans will be patient and will be with him no matter what. Every race seems to find his car getting better and better. With just a little luck on his side, he will turn this corner and be back where he belongs in the racing world.

  • Stopit says:

    I can’t wait until this “never-was” and most certainly “never-will-be” is finally yesterday’s news. How much can we take, seeing headlines about someone so insignificant? He’s the Danica Patrick of Nascar.

  • Diane says:

    Thanks Rick for the great article. So glad things are going well for him in his personal life. Agree with Ginger. Always his fan.

  • Ginger says:

    Thank you Rick for a great article. It makes Jr fans very happy to read a positive story about our driver. We will follow this driver forever and be the wind beneath his wings when things go badly.