New Beginnings for My Favorite Driver
It has finally become official. From sources at JR Motorsports, and Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have a new number to go with his new team and new sponsor for the 2008 season. What does this really mean to those loyal followers that make up Jr. Nation? It means Teresa Earnhardt is a bitch and we should be glad when Dale Jr. walks from the shop at DEI to the shop at Hendrick following the Miami race weekend.
I know that on this blog I’ve been silent on this issue. I’ve though several times about posting my opinion, but I really wanted to wait till all the dust had settled before finalizing my comments. I waited when Jr. announced his intentions to leave DEI
(considering I woke up just to watch this should say something). I waited when it was announced he would become teammates to Gordon and Johnson (if you know me, you know I’m not a fan of either). I waited when they said Budweiser would not be the sponsor of choice, although now I feel I can drink other beer without feeling as bad. As I read this news on ESPN.com tonight at work I couldn’t wait any longer.
My opinions varied greatly over the last several months of this saga. I, like many, was hopeful that Teresa would do the right thing by her stepson and NASCAR fans alike. Do what her husband had planned from day one when he formed that company, give it to his kids. In April the first ball dropped as Dale announced negotiations had broken down and he would be the sports world’s hottest free agent. I wasn’t disappointed in Jr’s decision. I’m a fan. Like a fan of any team or player I want to see them win championships. I was thrilled after years of hard work when David Robinson and the Spurs won their first NBA Championship. I long for that day when I can buy that Dale Jr. Championship car, banner, and hat.
I was disappointed to know that I had been let down by DEI. I got tired of people asking Jr if they though his dad would be proud of his decision. If his dad was here to answer that question, we wouldn’t have been asking it. Dale Sr. knew what it took to win championships. He won seven of them himself. I think he knew what to do. Point being none of what has happened this year would happen if Sr. was still here. I believe I would already have that Jr. Championship on my wall if Sr. was still here. But those in charge of DEI now seem to lack the knowledge that the company’s founder had. They failed to supply the equipment and keep up with changes to offer the team the best chance to win.
Then on a June night while surfing the internet and again waking up special to see another important press conference from Concord, NC. I was elated to know my driver was going to a winning team. Almost sick to know he was going to be teammate with two drivers that to be honest I have despised over the years. Even though Hendrick has fallen off its overwhelming dominance of the season, you can not argue that they are still the gold standard for multi-car team success. No other multi-car team has seen each of their drivers win at least one race this season.
Since then minor questions have steadily been answered. Dale Jr. will not have the King of Beers on his hood next year. And the latest has been the deal with Ralph Earnhardt’s number 8 no longer being associated with his grandson.
I have come to this conclusion through it all. This is the best thing that could happen for Dale Earnhardt Jr, and his excessively large fan base. Here is why. Performance is the first key. I’m not saying that Hendrick never has engine failures, or parts that simply fail. But three times in the last four races we’ve seen the 8 team suffer from poor equipment. I know that Tony Eury Jr. and Dale a like have been diplomatic in criticizing team officials, especially after another engine failure at Watkins Glen, but lets be honest here. With broken power steering at Chicago and engines unable to take the full weekend at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen you have to wonder what is happening there. Here is a major difference. When these things happen at DEI they look into back at the shop and nothing appears to come from it; Hendrick’s team makes sure that it never happens again.
I think the other part comes down to family. I don’t know either Dale Jr. or Teresa personally. I wasn’t there or witness to their family life. But, I believe that it came down to this: Teresa still treats Dale Jr, like he’s 12, not 32. We are talking about a man who has taken great responsibility on himself, partly because it was thrust upon him, and has handled himself with character that few have. Rick Hendrick, among many other people, has recognized this fact, something that Teresa has failed to do. If she had, we’d be talking about how Dale Jr, with help from key industry leaders would be changing DEI for the better heading into 2008.
So what is going to happen? Here is my prediction. Rick Hendrick is making Jr’s new now. He is not waiting till this seasons ends. He is putting the pieces in place for that team to come out of the box successful next season. They will make the Chase easily. In the next five years we will see at least one Sprint Championship on Earnhardt’s mantle. He will sign a contract extension to continue to drive for HMS. What about DEI? They will not completely fall apart. However they will fall behind several other top teams. Gibbs, Hendrick, Richard Childress and Roush Fenway continue to lead the sport as the elite teams. Behind them we find Evernham, Penske, and Ganassi. These are teams that can compete but do not step in the winner’s circle very often. I think DEI takes it’s place between them and teams like Robert Yates, Fall of Fame and the Wood Brothers. They consistently make races, but again don’t post many checkered flags on the shop wall. They will need to step up the program, and bring in a key driver to help that team succeed. I don’t see that happening before 2009.
Here is to buying all new crap at Daytona in February. Yes I will see the 50th Daytona 500 live in person.