For what has been a great season for the Hendrick Motorsports, including wins by team drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Mark Martin, it has been a horrible season for the Number 88 Team of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Fifteen weeks into the 2009 NASCAR season, the 88 Team finds itself 609 points behind leader Tony Stewart and 245 points behind twelfth place Denny Hamlin in the Sprint Cup Points standings.
The Number 88 team visits Michigan International Speedway this week for the LifeLock 400 as the defending Michigan Winner from last season.
It is hard to believe the Michigan Race is the site of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s only win with Hendrick Motorsports. A race he won after leading 43 laps, and on a fuel mileage gamble. Riding the inside track apron to find the checkered flag.
So, what’s up with the Number 88 team and why so little success when racing for the best team in Nascar?
Hendrick Motorsports’ has two of the top four drivers in the race for the chase, along with the other two drivers in the top four driving Hendrick equipment. But absolutely no success for only one team member, the Number 88 car driven by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
After a decent performance at Dover International two weeks ago with a 12th place finish, Jr. could muster only a 27th place finish last week at the Pocono Race under new crew chief Lance McGrew.
There has been a true lack of consistency on the track all year for the team and Dale Jr. has done little to give critics a reason to believe things will improve in the future.
Fans are beginning to question whether the removal of Tony Eury Jr. as crew chief will really make a difference for Jr. on the track.
Looking from the outside, I am beginning to wonder if there is another reason for the poor performance by the No. 88 driver.
Could there possibly be an attempt by the driver to continue to perform poorly in an attempt to end his contract with Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the year?
After all, look at Tony Stewart’s great success this year as a driver/owner at Stewart-Haas Racing after leaving a successful racing career at JGR.
I feel sure Dale Earnhardt is watching from the sideline at Tony’s success not only as a driver, but to Tony’s success at landing solid sponsorship from Nascar’s corporate elite.
Could Dale Jr. be thinking that such a move might be in his best interest long term?
There have been rumors circulating in recent weeks that Dale Jr. would like to leave the Hendrick's Motorsports team and make a move back to DEI with a higher stake of ownership, or, possibly expanding the team at JR Motorsports to include a Sprint Cup Series team.
Obviously, Dale Jr. is the most popular driver on the Nascar circuit and a great marketing catch for any sponsor who might lean his way.
With JR Motorsports young driver Brad Keselowski making a strong showing in both the Nationwide and Sprint Series, it could be the right timing for Dale Jr. to make a move.
Also, consider that Jr. and good friend Martin Truex Jr. have been spending a great deal of time together in recent weeks and speculation that Truex will exit DEI at the end of the season. The timing might be perfect!
Dale Earnhardt is a great marketing tool for the corporate sponsorships that continue to garnish the Nascar Sprint Cup series. Fans could easily see the king of beers making a move back to the No. 88 sponsorship.
Good luck to Dale Jr.
I am not a Jr. fan, but I am very confused at his performance in the 2009 Nascar season. Who knows, maybe Danica Patrick would be a perfect replacement over at the Hendrick Motorsports garage.
Article written by: D Howton