When Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved from the ill fated DEI, Inc. to a successful Hendrick Motorsports, it was only a matter of time before the truth would be found regarding how good a driver Earnhardt Jr. really was. With the mess his stepmom has made of DEI, it was easy to find or make an excuse for Jr. Although he was experiencing some success, it was not the success his fans expected. And as his fan rating was through the roof, and other drivers began to dislike Jr. for this, he knew he needed to make some big changes to bring the success he expects.
This big change came when he left DEI and signed with Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick already had success with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. The 5 car has had some bumps, but this last season showed 3 of the 4 Hendrick cars had what it took to race. And who was the 4th car?
As Hendrick Motorsports wrapped up the 2009 season with an incredible 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, Earnhardt Jr. was in a far distant 25th place! All four drivers of the Hendrick cars had the opportunity to take advantage of the same equipment. Only one thing was different. The driver behind the wheel! The 48 car proved they had a full package. The 24 car proved the same! Mark Martin had the career of a lifetime, the only thing missing was winning the championship. Dale Earnhardt Jr. however was out of the mix, out of the running and out of the chase.
After the season ending, word from Hendrick Motorsports is they are putting their complete attention into the 88 team to get them back on track. As Earnhardt Jr. enters his third year for Mr. Hendrick, this sounds like to me Mr. Hendrick is giving him a final opportunity to prove why he is the fan favorite, or Jr could be looking for a new ride in 2011. How long will Mr. Hendrick allow Jr. to go winless, especially when his other cars are showing that the program Mr. Hendrick has created works?
Here is how Earnhardt Jr. breaks down.
His best years were 2002 through 2004 where he had an average standing of 6th place. His average finish was 13th between 2002 and 2004. In the last two years that has dropped to almost 19th! Between 2002 and 2004 he led a total of 3,247 laps. Compared with the last two years with Hendrick, he led a total of 1,042, with only 146 laps coming from 2009. And if you are looking for top 10's from Jr, he has had 37 less top 10's in the last 2 years compared to his hay days.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Hendrick called the dismal numbers from his driver a slump. He even compared it to the slump Jeff Gordon has had. But when you look at the numbers, a driver may have one or two bad years (unless your name is Jimmie Johnson) but the numbers show Earnhardt has done nothing spectacular in the last five years! This isn't a slump, this is a below average driver trying to find his way through a sport his father dominated.