What makes a successful career in NASCAR? A championship in one of the top three series? More than 10 wins? Being known as a contender rather than a start and park?
For Dale Earnhardt Junior, it seems that none of these things will be good enough. This leads me to ask one question. What would it take for people to consider Dale Jr. a success and not a bust? But let's forget about that question for a minute.
First, lets take a look at Dale Jr's career. As Dale Earnhardt's son, he had a lot of expectations. Perhaps some unfair expectations were on his shoulders.
Driving for his father's then NASCAR Busch Series team, he won back-to-back championships. Although he won them in close point races with Matt Kenseth, the championships only added to Junior's expectations as a Cup driver.
In 2000, Junior went full time in NASCAR's top series. Wins at Texas, Richmond, and the All-Star race marked a successful rookie season, although he did not win Rookie of the Year. He was learning how to drive a cup car, and learning lessons from his dad on and off the track.
When Dale Earnhardt Sr. died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, his son immediately had big shoes to fill. Dealing with personal grief, The Intimidator's fans jumped on board the Dale Jr. bandwagon.
In the years following his father's death, Junior has piled up 17 wins. He had been a contender in the Cup Series, and had finished as high as third in the points.
After moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, everyone expected big things. The wins and championship opportunities have not panned out like expected, and now people are questioning Junior's ability to drive a car.
What's the problem?
Well, it is true, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is under-performing compared to what he has done in the past. It's not his fault.
Breaking down Hendrick Motorsports; there have been trends. The 88 team is the fourth team at Hendrick Motorsports. The 88 car is the same team that many drivers had little success with. That team? The 25 team.
Enter text here. Characters left: Ken Schrader, Jerry Nadeau, Casey Mears, Wally Dallenbach, Ricky Craven, and Joe Nemecheck have all driven for that team. How much success have they had?
Also, what about Brian Vickers? A Busch Series champion at age 20, and great expectations in the 25 car. One win in over 100 starts for Hendrick Motorsports.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be a superstar in NASCAR, but it doesn't change the fact that he drives for a team that has always seemed to lag behind the other flagships teams for Hendrick Motorsports.
It is also unfair that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has to be compared to his father. The two are two different people. Sure, they are father and son, but they have different racing styles. Face it, there is only one Intimidator.
Comparing Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Dale Sr. is like comparing Kyle Petty to Richard Petty. Having the Petty name, Kyle never lived up to his expectations. The facts are that if he wasn't a Petty people would say he had flashes of success in his career and was not a waste of a driver.
There was no way that Kyle Petty was going to be able to fill Richard Petty's shoes. The two raced in different eras in NASCAR. The same is true for Dale Jr. and Dale Sr. No matter what anyone may argue the competition has gotten much tougher since the 80s and 90s.
Maybe if people stopped comparing Dale Earnhardt Jr. to his father, they would realize that he is not a bust. He is a good driver, and has the stats to prove it. Like all drivers, he is in a slump. Heck, even the "Golden Boy" Jeff Gordon went winless one season!
I am so tired of people saying that Dale Jr. is a disappointment. Cut the guy a break, he isn't his father and people shouldn't expect him to be. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is his own man.
With the expectations, people could even call Dale Jr. a bust if he won six championships because "his father won seven."
In NASCAR, it is tough to live up to expectations. Look at all the guys who haven't lived up to them before.
Also, stop and think about it. If his last name wasn't Earnhardt would he be under so much scrutiny? Cut Dale Jr. a break, because he has already shown he can drive a race car and win.