Much has been written about the disappointing performance of Hendrick Motor Sports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who many dub as "the face of NASCAR" due to his incredible popularity and famous last name.
This weekend's 22nd place finish in the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway did nothing to stem the picking of the flesh from Junior's bones, with speculation aplenty as to what ails this particular driver and team.
In fact, Junior's performance has been so poor that he continues to slide in the points standings, currently down to the 17th position. If this continues, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was promised the moon when signing with Rick Hendrick, will be outside the championship chase, looking in once more.
The Junior bone pickers tend to land in one of approximately five different camps. Each one espouses its unique take on what exactly is wrong with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and why he is not living up to his full potential.
The first bone picking camp puts the blame squarely on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief. Of course, this camp picked Junior's bones clean when his crew chief was his cousin Tony Eury Jr.
But now that Junior's crew chief is Lance McGrew, the bone pickers in this camp are still chomping away, saying that the chemistry is just not right. Even Junior himself admits that he needs someone who can kick him in the you know where, which does not seem to be McGrew's style.
Prior to the Coca Cola 600, Junior and McGrew were scheduled to go to lunch to clear the air after a particularly tense time, with some harsh words exchanged the previous race weekend. Unfortunately, while the lunch meeting may have occurred, the performance on the track did not change accordingly.
The second camp of bone pickers places the blame firmly on the race team. In fact, there have been several instances of bad pit stops that have cost Junior dearly on pit road and back out on the track.
Some of these problems, however, were created by the driver himself. There have been numerous times when Junior has either missed his stall, sped down pit lane, or violated some other rule that has cost him and his team a good finish.
The third bone picking group places the blame on the car itself. Some insist that Junior is not "getting the good stuff" and the good cars instead go to Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, or Jimmie Johnson, Junior's other teammates.
Some others in this group put the blame on the Car of Tomorrow (now today), saying Junior is still struggling with getting a handle on that car. Another culprit in this camp is the spoiler, which recently replaced the wing, potentially changing the aerodynamics of the handling of the race car.
The fourth bone picking group lays the blame squarely at Junior's door. They say that he is not focused and that he has way too many distractions on his plate.
Members of this camp point to Junior's bar Whiskey River, his racing, and his Nationwide team as examples that this Cup driver is spread way too thin. Yet in an interview with Marty Smith of ESPN, Junior himself denied that lack of focus was a problem and most certainly said it was no one's business but his own what he was involved with on and off the track.
The final group of those picking Dale Junior's bones clean is the one that blames his dysfunctional family and the traumatic loss of his father for all of his troubles. These bone pickers just know that Junior would be performing better if his family was intact and his daddy was there to give him the advice and counsel that he truly needs.
A small, very quiet group, however, has been recently emerging. That is the group that says that in spite of the famous genes and the blood running in his veins, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is just not that good of a driver himself.
This group takes a great deal of heat from Junior Nation when they espouse that theory. But if you listen to NASCAR radio or read some of the blogs, this group is starting to perhaps get just a bit more vocal, gaining a bit more traction.
Of course, all of those picking Junior's bones clean in all candor really have no clue as to why the driver of the No. 88 AMP/National Guard Chevy has struggled so mightily again this year. No one, not even Rick Hendrick, really knows what is happening and if he did, he would most likely fix it immediately.
And perhaps for all of those bone pickers, it is not one simple answer as to why Junior is not having the year that is expected of him. It may instead be a confluence of all of these factors, or perhaps even one factor that none of us know about and that he holds private.
Regardless, the bone picking of Dale Junior will no doubt continue. And it will go on and on and on until Junior either has a good on-track performance or until the driver can no longer take it all.