If Dale Earnhardt Jr. Leaves Hendrick Motorsports, Where He Goes Is Anyone's Guess

Sal Sigala Jr.Senior Analyst INovember 22, 2010

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 21:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, stands on pit road prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2010 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has finally concluded, and for Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., it marks another year of disappointment and frustration for the sports most popular driver.

Expectations once again ran high as they do every time the month of February rolls around, when his legion of followers prepare themselves for what they hope will have a championship ending.

Once again Earnhardt failed to produce a happy ending, but instead found himself following the same path he embarked on six seasons ago.

Less then stellar is one way of describing his sudden fall from grace, and upon further review 2004 was by far his best season and a time when he looked to be a legit championship contender.

Earnhardt won six races, along with adding a career best 16 top-five, and 21 top-10 finishes while finishing fifth in the final point standings, and Jimmie Johnson was the only driver to win more races them him that year.

The next three seasons Earnhardt would only make two visits to victory lane, and it was then he would shock the racing world saying he was ready to leave the organization his late father and step mom founded in 1980. 

Earnhardt would leave behind his long time sponsor, along with the number he used in honor of his grandfather, and find refuge with  NASCAR’s most popular organization.

Hendrick Motorsports would welcome Earnhardt with a new set of sponsors, along with the number 88 which was used by Robert Yates Racing.

Robert Yates felt because, "Ralph Earnhardt drove the No. 88 Olds in 1957 and because of this number's history with the Earnhardt family, I felt car No. 88 should continue with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.,"

So here is NASCAR’s most popular driver, sitting behind the wheel of the sports most technologically advanced organizations race car, ready to give his career a much needed boost.

Earnhardt was able to notch his first win during his inaugural season (2008) with his new team,  but once again he would falter the rest of the season even though he qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

With five finishes outside the top-20, which included three finishes outside the top-25, and two outside the top-35, proved to be his biggest downfall.

When consistency plays a huge role, Earnhardt never found a rhythm which led to him finishing 12th in the point standings, 557 points behind eventual champion Jimmie Johnson.

For the next two season Earnhardt’s fans waited patiently for something positive to materialize, but with only five top-five, and 13 top-10 finished in 72 starts, they began to wonder what had become of their driver.

Nothing seemed to help their ailing driver, and it wasn’t long before Rick Hendrick himself stepped in and figured a change of crew chiefs was in order.

With Lance McGrew calling the shots for the 2010 season, Earnhardt still continued to struggle even though he improved his 2009 overall finish with a 21st in the point standings.

Improvement is what his fans have been waiting to see, and this year was no different when post after post was written about what can possibly be done to put their driver back into contention for a championship.

Just about every scenario has been thought of, including having him pack up his belongings and leaving the confines of Hendrick Motorsports, in hopes and of finding greener pastures with another organization.

Where can NASCAR’s most popular possibly go to find solitude along with  a new beginning, when three years ago these same fans were overjoyed when he made the best decision to leave Dale Earnhardt Incorporated for Hendrick Motorsports? 

Many have voiced their opinions that Richard Childress Racing would be the best fit, even though there is no room since Paul Menard signed on as their fourth driver.

D.E.I. was also thrown in the mix, but lets not forget that Teresa Earnhardt still owns the team, and wasn’t it three years ago the fans were lobbying for him to walk out on her?

Would Earnhardt be willing to leave the manufacturer that has been synonymous with the Earnhardt name, and jump on board with lets say Ford, Dodge, or even Toyota?

All of these suggestions don’t mean a thing if he is not welcome, or for a better way to put it Rick Hendrick keeps him right where he is.

The headline reads, “Dale Earnhardt Jr. Leaves Hendrick Motorsport; Where Goes Is Anyone’s Guess.”

For his fans the first half of the headline would be a breath of fresh air, but what about Earnhardt’s feelings about this, and where would he go?