Its a summer Sunday afternoon. Thousands of people are crammed in the stands of an asphalt coliseum to watch 43 guys push their cars and their bodies to the limits. In the middle of the automobiles rides the most notorious driver in all of stock car racing. It's the number 88 Amp Energy/ National Guard Cheverlet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. The fans jump to their feet when Earnhardt takes the lead, or moves like a rocket through the pack. But hard times have fallen on the 34 year old North Carolina native.
Dale Jr. started off the 2008 season like he was shot out of a cannon. In his first race in Hendrick equipment, Earnhardt won the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona. The following week won his Gatorade Dual at Daytona. He ended up 9th in the 500, but his momenum carried him through the rest of the regular season with one win and 10 top five finishes. He entered the chase third in points but struggled throughout and finished 12th in the finial standings.
Everyone was excited about Jr.'s 2009 season. All they could talk about was how this could be the year that he wins the championship. After a wreck in the Shootout, and a flat tire put him in the back in the duel, he entered the 2009 Daytona 500 on a low note.
Jr. ended up a lap down in and didnt even crack the top twenty in the 500. This was the story for the rest of his season. Flat tires, pit road mistakes, blown engines. His struggles led to the firing of his crew-cheif and cousin, Tony Eury Jr. Lance Mcgrew stepped in for the remainder of the season where he finished 25th in points.
Now the question is raised. Why can't Jr. win races? He has already proved to us that he is a winner. He has 19 cup victories. But what has changed. The answer lies in the car of tomorrow. Jr. can't seem to master this new car and that could be his biggest problem. He always runs the high groove at the 1 1/2 race tracks. And just about after every one of those races, he has made contact with the wall.
Earnhardt need someone to look up to and respect. I firmly believe that if his father were still here to guide him, Earnhardt would have already won a championship and twice as many races. He needs someone that will say "this is how its gonna be done, now lets do it."
Another cause for his hardships could be his social popularity. He makes hundreds of appearances every couple months and it doesn't give him time to focus on his racing. I have heard Darrel Waltrip say this many times. "If Jr. would take all of this personal life, and set it aside for two months and just focus only of racing, he would be a threat to win every week."
Whether it's his complicated life, or the COT, Dale Jr. needs to get his career back on track. If he struggles as bad or worse in 2010, fans could start to turn away from him and his career could shrink down to the likes of Dave Blaney or Scott Speed. This is a guy who has everything, he just needs to learn to use it.