Each week NASCAR fans and members of the media get another glimpse of a consistently dejected Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Thursday’s practice and qualifying session at Charlotte Motor Speedway was no different. Jr. once again showed his frustrations about being in a race car.
Touring the 1.5-mile oval during the first practice session, Jr. exited the track and brought his car to the attention of Lance McGrew three different times during the hour and a half warm up.
Nothing seemed to make a difference. Jr.’s fastest lap time barely cracked the top 20. Once the session was over, Jr. quickly exited his car, said nothing to his crew or crew chief.
Once outside the garage stall, Jr. practically sprinted to his hauler, not even taking the time to remove his helmet.
Behavior like this isn’t too uncommon at the track on occasion. What’s uncommon is when you see this type of behavior, or similar types, week after week by the same driver.
An impromptu meeting with a former crew member of the No. 88 Amp Energy Chevrolet gave support to what most have been thinking for months, even years now.
“Jr. is just not happy at this point in his career. He’s uncomfortable in the car and unhappy with this current situation. He feels trapped.”
Just two weeks ago Jr. brought his car to the attention of his crew during the race, insisting there was a problem. This mysterious problem, even though Jr. insisted on complaining for the duration of the race, was never discovered and Jr. posted another dismal finish.
These comments and situations do not paint a pretty picture for Jr., his future or his current relationship with his crew and car owner.
It is quite possible the black cloud hanging over Jr. does have a silver lining.
What ever the catalyst of his unhappiness is, a stroke of the mighty ink pen can change it all.
Car owner Rick Hendrick is in a unique position right now. He has four teams, NASCAR’s limit by rules, and a fifth driver, Kasey Kahne, coming on board next year.
Speculation has been that Mark Martin will exit his car at the end of this year to make room for the up and coming superstar Kahne.
Most of the scenarios being thrown around have Martin going to Stewart-Haas Racing, a Hendrick supported team, for his final year, or placing Kahne at SHR so Martin can ride out the final year of his contract with Hendrick.
The scenario not being tossed around, arguably the most sensible, is Rick Hendrick letting Jr. go.
If Jr., as his former crew member stated, is so unhappy, basically about everything, then why not release him of his contract so he can pursue happiness on his own terms.
If Hendrick gave Jr. his walking papers, it would solve the uncertainty of Kahne, Martin, and actually, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While Jr. is still NASCAR’s most popular driver and very marketable, his career performance is spiraling out of control downward.
Without some drastic improvements, or for lack of a better term, a serious attitude change, soon his marketability will follow the same path as his career.
Hendrick has to know that without some significant improvements in performance on the track, sponsors will only ride the Earnhardt name for so long before looking elsewhere.
Photo Credit: David L. Yeazell