Just for a moment, try and imagine this. You are 36 years old, you drive a race car for a living and you have won 13 total races at Daytona (top-five all-time)—apparently without talent.
You’ve swept the weekend at Bristol, but don’t possess the mentality to be aggressive behind the wheel. You won two consecutive Nationwide Championships, but you are an average driver.
You were ranked the 24th Greatest Driver in Nascar’s first 60 years by the same media that has compared you to Ryan Leaf. Welcome to the world of Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Your Nationwide winning percentage is better than Saturday superstar Kevin Harvick’s. You have more Cup victories than Kahne, Harvick, Biffle, Newman, Curtis Turner and Donnie Allison.
You have 18 Cup wins, in fact—which would make you Harry Gant or Geoff Bodine if your last name wasn’t Earnhardt. You own a Daytona 500 and an all-star race, which is pretty stout for someone who can’t drive.
Your five Talladega victories should place you alongside Buddy Baker, but your father won 10 times there. You are Bodine without a bobsled man, and we all thought he was pretty darn good.
But the same cannot be said for you. Read any article from the most respected NASCAR journalists (Hinton, Menzer and Owens to name a few), and they will suggest you simply don’t have the talent.
And so you have become the only driver in NASCAR history whose 46 trips to Victory Lane (across the top-two series) can be chalked up to luck. Against the best drivers in the world, someone of your mediocre ability has apparently been the beneficiary of miraculous fortune.
You aren’t good under pressure, either—which you illustrated by winning the first race at Daytona after your father was killed there, the first race after 9/11, and your first race at Hendrick Motorsports.
And you lack the mental toughness to be successful, despite the fact that you carry the sport (and the weight of your name) on your shoulders week after week with grace, humility, candor and class.
As for the well-documented slump, it is hardly unprecedented. Jeff Burton went six years between wins without forgetting how to drive. And Mark Martin went 100 races without a trip to Victory Lane without having his talent questioned once.
Even your paltry one win in three years at HMS is as many as Jeff Gordon has earned.
But the media has you figured out. Although you have said you want to race into your 50s, Hinton predicts you’ll throw in the towel before 40. You don’t care enough, as your passionate tirades on the radio reveal.
And you don’t work hard enough—unless you ask slackers Jimmie Johnson or Rick Hendrick who say that is B.S.
In addition, you have too many outside interests—chief among them, the 200-plus wishes you’ve granted to chronically ill children. Your lack of dedication is part of the problem.
So take the next couple weeks and reflect on the lack of success documented above. Ruminate about the unmet expectations. Lament over the plethora of trophies you have hoisted.
And if you happen to make it back to Victory Lane in 2011, just remember that you got there in spite of your limited driving talent, poor attitude, waning desire and questionable work-ethic.