Sunday, October 25, 2009

To the Defense of Dale Earnhardt Jr

Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR

While I'm a fan of almost every driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, I've always had a particular fondness of Dale Earnhardt Jr. As you can expect, the 2009 and even the late 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup series has been quite trying as the #88 has been locked out of victory lane. Everything from tire problems, mechanical issues, and late-race accidents have erased any progress made by the #88 AMP/National Guard Chevrolet Impala team. Not helping the painful sight has been the ongoing coverage of Dale Earnhardt Jr's dismal race happenings.

Not requiring embellishment, Earnhardt Jr's problems were spotlighted heavily by the media outlets around NASCAR. Effectively leading the initiative to remove Tony Eury Jr long before Hendrick Motorsports made the move after the May Richmond race, the #88 Chevy's new crew chief Lance McGrew (a formidable Hendrick wrenchman) was unable to reverse the team's fortunes.

After the crew chief change, remarks had been leveled against Earnhardt himself insinuating he's 'past his prime' after winning 18 Sprint Cup series races.'s Duane Cross has even made an irrelevant career comparison to actress Lindsay Lohan when he wrote his column titled "Junior's struggles mount as life now imitates art". Personally, I fail to make the connection of a NASCAR driver's drought to a troubled female celebrity. A multitude of racing greats endured winless season recently including Jeff Gordon and even Mark Martin (two drivers enjoying Chase contention for 2009). With their struggles weren't nearly as well documented by the NASCAR press, Dale Earnhardt Jr's massive fanbase has certainly provided a newsworthy topic for moving pens (or tapping keyboards). Of course, it is so easy to blame the media and I guess it makes me self-hating in that regard to levy much criticism against the better established auto racing resources.

Television also appears to be against Dale Earnhardt Jr as broadcasts seem to go far to rub a little more salt in the wounds of a driver hurting from a hard 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. In today's (October 25th) running of the Martinsville Speedway Tums Fast Relief 500, ABC commentator Dale Jarrett sounded certain that Earnhardt contributed to Kasey Kahne's spin. On the replay of the incident, the #88 Chevrolet was more than five car lengths ahead of the red #9 Dodge when it veered loose on turn two. In their respect, sugar-coated praise for Earnhardt Jr and the #88 team should not be served to their Martinsville effort either. Three right front tire failures is an inexcusable mistake which is definitely a team problem.

Even with the down year for the #88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, the driver enjoys the continuing admiration of an extensive fan group called JR Nation spending more money on merchandise than any other fan group. However, with other drivers on the circuit, many NASCAR fans will freely argue why a Sprint Cup driver who has only won a single points-paying Cup race in three seasons should be kept in a prestigious operation like Hendrick Motorsports. Anti-Earnhardt fans poke at his inclusion on the circuit being a result of his family name. In honesty, Dale Earnhardt Jr can should on his own merits. Two-time NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) Series champion, 2004 Daytona 500 winner, and six-straight most popular driver awards are not just statistics but proof.

As one of the fans, please allow me to state JR Nation need not be reminded of the struggles. Rather, it would be worth reassuring why their choice driver will eventually rise from this situation hungrier and more focused to justify this admiration. We need Dale Earnhardt Jr back at the front in the most crucial part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup events.

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