Dale Earnhardt Jr. Has To Be Wondering If the Jump To HMS Was a Bad Move

Sal Sigala Jr.Senior Analyst IMay 17, 2010

DOVER, DE - MAY 14:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway on May 14, 2010 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Just when the season begins to show signs of optimism, strange things begin to happen as if the racing gods have put some sort of voodoo spell on him.

Does Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard HMS Chevrolet, need to have an exorcism performed before each race, to help him and his team get through the calamity they have been experiencing?

Another race has gone by, and with that race came another disgusting finish, which is beginning to sound like the same old song and dance.

Earnhardt thought something in his steering had broken, but after spending seven laps on pit road, nothing was found wrong with the car.

By day’s end Earnhardt and the No. 88 team would finish the race 10 laps down in 30th place, with fingers once again being pointed at the driver along with the crew chief.

The weekend started out just as badly as it ended, and that’s when the frustration really began to take its toll on NASCAR’s most popular driver.

After Fridays practice session, Earnhardt was once again not happy with the car the team unloaded, and promptly expressed his feelings about chassis No. 88-578.

“I just get pissed when my stuff isn’t good, you know,” said Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt also added that, “Hell, it’s what you are supposed to do, you aren’t supposed to be happy about it.”

You have to wonder how much more of this can Earnhardt endure, before he really takes his frustration over the top and explodes.

It’s hard enough when you are the sport’s most popular driver and you aren’t living up to your fans' expectations, or the expectations that as a driver you put upon yourself.

Then you throw in the fact that this team has the best equipment in the series, and it’s easy to see how the tension can very easily become unbearable.

Earnhardt has never been the same since coming to the glorified garages of Hendrick Motorsports, and you have to wonder what it is that keeps plaguing this team week after week.

You hear the stories that HMS is not giving Earnhardt the same equipment that Gordon and Johnson have inside their garages, and after watching the team struggle week after week, maybe some of what these fans are saying is true?

Early in his career he did have his problems, but nothing like what he is going through today.

How does a driver run up front and at the same time show signs that he just might take over the star status from Gordon and Johnson, and then all of a sudden it’s like the rug is being pulled from underneath him?

Logic tells us that Hendrick would want Earnhardt in victory lane as often as possible, but then there is always the flip side that Hendrick knows either way he will make money off him, and the last thing he wants is to have Gordon or Johnson upset?

Hendrick has the best marketing team in the series, in addition to knowing that a driver such as Earnhardt doesn’t need to win in order to continue to be in the spotlight.

Johnson is a good example and it's being proven as we speak, with the spotlight still on him even though he hasn’t won in the last six races.

Earnhardt’s first season with HMS looked very promising, after he came out strong with victories in the Bud Shootout, and also in the first Gatorade duel.

Earnhardt was also the highest finishing HMS driver with a ninth-place finish in the 2008 Daytona 500, along with finishing strong second to Carl Edwards at Las Vegas that same year.

Halfway through the season, Earnhardt had already picked up one victory, seven top five, and 12 top 10 finishes while sitting comfortably in second place in the point standings.

Earnhardt had a 185-point lead over his teammate Johnson, and a 255-point lead over Gordon, before disaster struck and all he could manage was three top-10 finishes in the next 18 races.

Earnhardt would eventually finish out the 2008 season 13th in points, and in 2009 he hit rock bottom when he failed to make the chase while finishing 25th in points, with a mere two top-five’s, and five top-10 finishes.

With all of these inconsistent finishes, you have to sit back and wonder if there is something mysterious going on behind closed doors, and they are not letting Earnhardt in on it.

This is no conspiracy theory, but take a good long look at what is really happening and something just doesn’t add up.

Whatever it is, it’s almost a guarantee that Earnhardt will not make the chase again this season, and it will not be because he is lacking the driving skills to put himself in.

It takes not only a driver, but also a good crew chief to guide his driver into victory lane, and let’s not forget it also takes the equipment that HMS is known for.

Somewhere between those three, there is a piece of the puzzle missing that is keeping the team from producing better finishes.

That piece of the puzzle is probably hidden in a place that only Rick Hendrick knows where to find it.

When and where he will give that piece up is anybody’s guess, but it’s almost guaranteed it won’t be anytime soon.

When Earnhardt first made the decision to jump into an HMS car, it looked like he found a team that would suit the way he drove.

Just because it looks good from the outside, doesn’t always mean it will work out or that it was the best decision at the time.

There are those who will agree that this was not his best choice, and he probably could have done better with another team, and of course there are those who will continue to argue that HMS was the best choice for him.

All of that no longer matters, because Earnhardt is locked until the 2013 season, and there is no way Hendrick will allow his marketing magnet to find employment elsewhere.

Money to an owner such as Hendrick has the same value as being able to control the circumstances around him, especially when he already has more than what he can spend in this lifetime.

His power comes from how much overall influence he has on the sport, and that is the one reason’s he signed Earnhardt and most recently Kasey Kahne.

Keep a close eye on what happens in the months to come, and which car Kasey Kahne ends up driving next season.

There was a great lesson that was missed by the circumstances that led up to the firing of Kyle Busch, in order to make sure he put Dale Earnhardt Jr. in one his race cars, but more importantly the spotlight on HMS.