Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Are NASCAR Fans Expecting Too Much from You?

David YeazellSenior Analyst IMarch 4, 2010

“To whom much is given, much is expected”  John F. Kennedy

This week the Sprint Cup teams roll into Atlanta Motor Speedway.

With four races under their belts, the point’s landscape is taking shape and some new faces are beginning to make a statement.

Of course, with the new faces on the leader board, there are a few familiar faces still not there.

Dale Earnhardt Jr’s second place finish at Daytona was heralded as the beginning of his return to the top.

The Jr. Nation celebration was short lived as a broken axle in California and an ill handling race car in Las Vegas secured Jr. two dismal finishes and a drop from second to 15th in the points.

During the post race press conference at Las Vegas, Rick Hendrick, the omnipresent car owner of the No. 88 Amp Energy Chevrolet, stood firm in his support of Jr. and offered his analogy of the problems plaguing the No. 88 team.

“I think we made a lot of improvements,” said Hendrick.  “I think we didn't get to show the car was coming back well at California, broke an axle, and today ran up front that long green‑flag stretch.  He was good there at the end.  What did he end up, 14th?”

Actually Jr. ended up in 16th position after posting another top five qualifying run. 

“But I think to qualify as well as he did, went out first, right behind Jimmie there, broke the track record by 3/10ths, and ran up there, we had a couple of bobbles in the pits with the pit crew.  It seems like every time the car is good, the pit crew screws up.  If the pit crew is on, the car, something breaks.”

Jr’s radio transmissions with crew chief Lance McGrew were anything but cordial. While McGrew stayed calm and encouraged his driver to hang in there, Jr. unleashed a flurry of verbal abuse towards his crew chief.

Last year’s poor performance by Earnhardt Jr. was blamed on a combination of pit road miscues, ill handling race cars and an under performing crew chief.

It seems the 2010 season is becoming a rerun of 2009.

Jr. has been given a lot, most notably the Earnhardt name.

There’s no doubt a lot of pressure comes with that name. But Jr. has also been given the best equipment, the best owner in the business, and as Hendrick said earlier this year in Charlotte, all available resources.

One thing he hasn’t been given, at either race shop, is the boot.

Jr’s gestalt can be a bit fuzzy at times, but one thing is very clear, especially with the recent Danica Patrick side show, popularity, not performance, is what reigns supreme.

Most any driver with the same performance record as Jr. would be on the short list of hunting a new ride and the media would be all over it.

Just one month ago in Concord, North Carolina, at the sprawling complex known as Hendrick Motorsports, Rick Hendrick assured the media in attendance he was using every available resource to help Dale Earnhardt Jr. emerge from a winless slump and return to his winning ways.

As far as anyone knows, there is no itemized list of Hendrick Motorsports resources, but if there was, maybe the key resource being overlooked is Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It’s possible the one who has had much given, is trying to tell us too much is expected.

Photo Credit: David L. Yeazell