What can you say about the son of a legend? Is he the real deal, or is he just playing at being a legitimate driver?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won 18 Cup races in his career. He's only won exactly one race, at least a points race, in his last two and a half seasons.
Detractors of "Little E" invariably point to Junior's celebrity status, saying he's got the "big head," as we say here in the south, saying that Junior complains too much, that he's spread himself too thin, that he has basically a much higher opinion of himself than he should.
One fact that many Junior haters should remember: Dale Earnhardt Jr. never wanted the celebrity status that has been forced upon him by the media and his fans. He never desired it. He never asked for it. It just happend when Dale Jr. lost his famous father in 2001. His father died on national TV, which is about the last thing I could ever wish on anyone.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is basically a rather shy individual. I had the pleasure of meeting him one time, and he was about as shy as a high school graduate on his way to his very first job interview. Not only did Dale Jr. come across as a shy person, he also came across as a very real and genuine person, at least to me.
He was certainly friendly, but cautious as well. One could easily get the impression that he was a man who had been burned too many times by people who claimed to be his friends. One easily gets the impression that Dale Jr.trusts very few people, and with good reason.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., I believe, is one of the last few remaining 'good guys' in NASCAR. He respects the roots of the sport, and was a fan long before he actually became a driver.
Dale Jr. respects drivers like Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby and Davey Allison, Tim Richmond, and a host of others. Dale Jr. knows the sport as well as you or I know our families or our best friends.
Dale Jr., as I have already said, has won 18 races in the Cup series thus far. That feat does not occur because a driver is overrated. Winning 18 Cup races takes skill and talent, and obviously having a pretty fast race car.
Dale has become muddled in a battle with his own team, at times. He needs the car to be tighter, or looser, and for some reason, the team keeps getting the car not quite right. Many fans blame crew chief Tony Eury Jr., but I'm not sure that's where the problem lies.
The relationship between driver and crew chief is not only an almost sacred bond, but also about as complicated as the relationship between wife and husband.
Communication is the key, obviously, and that's where some relationships begin to disintegrate.
Very few husbands and wives communicate with perfect accuracy, but eventually, husbands and wives who stay together, who actually "make it" in the long run learn to anticipate each other's thoughts, and eventually actually complete each other's sentences at times.
Thus far, Dale Earnhardt Jr. stands by his crew chief, who's not only his crew chief, but also his cousin. They've known each other their entire lives, and have basically been more like brothers than anything else. That relationship does not automatically translate to the perfect communication that they need, however. Even brothers don't understand each other at times.
The quick solution for many of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s fans is to simply fire Tony Eury Jr. and put someone, anyone, on top of the pit box in Tony Jr.'s place. I'm not so sure that will work.
The driver has to trust the guy making the pit decisions, and though Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. argue, just like brothers do, it seems that Dale Jr. has a tremendous amount of trust in his cousin.
Is Tony Eury Jr. the best crew chief in the sport? I would say no. But he does have one thing going for him, which is the trust and support of NASCAR's most popular driver. As a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, that's good enough for me.