Finally Some Answers About the Struggles of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IMay 18, 2009

DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 08: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, talks to the media after practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Southern 500 on May 8, 2009 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The debate rages on about what or who is to blame for the struggles that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having thus far in 2009.

I could be rich just by reading all the comments about how much of a bad driver Earnhardt Jr. is.

I could pay off my college tuition from all the times that I've heard that crew chief Tony Eury Jr. needs to be fired.

Everyone can't seem to grasp how Earnhardt Jr. went from being the best Hendrick car the first half of 2008, to the worst in 2009.

What's amazing is that the answer has been revealed, and yet not one media member has chosen to discuss it and let the fans know. 

After all, people would take notice of an article about Earnhardt Jr.

How many of you chose to read this one because of the headline?

But, because of the media for once not doing a story of Earnhardt Jr., then I will share what has been learned.

One week ago after the Darlington weekend in which Hendrick Motorsports driver Mark Martin found Victory Lane and Earnhardt Jr. found the wall and another poor finish, the phone lines were ringing off the hook on the NASCAR Sirius Radio Channel.

I settled into my two and a half hour drive back to college and laughed as Dave Moody and Suzy Q. Armstrong had their everyday fun of talking NASCAR and interacting with the fans.

But then something really made me get up on the wheel and turn the volume waaaay up.

Moody said he knew why Earnhardt Jr. was struggling and it wasn't just another theory.

Moody told the listeners how he had talked to an insider from Hendrick Motorsports, who asked to remain anonymous, and that official revealed that the No. 88 teams struggle had to do

Now, before everyone starts to jump down to the comment section, listen carefully.

When he said equipment, it wasn't an excuse for Junior Nation to defend Earnhardt Jr. and say it wasn't his fault.

It wasn't an excuse to protect Eury Jr. from everyone calling for his head.

Think of it this way: one year ago today, Earnhardt Jr. sat third in points behind Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton. Just 134 points out of the lead. 

He had one pole, four top fives, and eight top 10s after the first 11 races.

Look at the current point standings and you'll see that Earnhardt Jr. sits 18th in points, 419 behind teammate and points leader Jeff Gordon.

He has no poles, one top five, and three top 10s after 11 races.

So when looking for an answer and hearing the Hendrick official say that it's equipment was enough to have me convinced.

After all, a driver that has won two Nationwide Series Championships and has 18 career Sprint Cup wins and knows how to win, doesn't just wake up and begin a new season and just become a horrible driver.

After all, a crew chief that helped put Earnhardt Jr. to third in the point standings last year and be one of the most consistent drivers in the Series the first half of last year, doesn't just come into a new season and forget how to do his job.

So, I listened on to what Moody had to say and what he learned.

The answers and my confusion about Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 team were soon cleared up.

Three of the four Hendrick cars, that would be Gordon, the current points leader and winner at Texas, Jimmie Johnson, fourth in points and the winner at Martinsville, and Martin, 11th in points and the winner at Phoenix and Darlington, are each running the same setups and building their cars alike.

They head to the race track with their cars almost identical.

The fourth Hendrick team, which would be Earnhardt Jr., who sits 18th in points with no using a different set up.

Presumably, the No. 88 team is still using the same set ups and such that worked so well and gave them such great success in 2008.

However, what has become painstakingly clear, is that what worked in 2008, is not working in 2009.

Things have changed. The car is different and the 88 team has not accepted that.

Each week they are choosing to build their cars the same way they did a year ago, while their teammates are building them a different way and succeeding. 

Which makes it easy to understand why Earnhardt Jr. can't go to his teammates and ask what they are doing and why Gordon, Johnson, and Martin can't go to Earnhardt Jr. and see what he is doing.

When they are on two opposite ends of the spectrum, nothing is going to be learned.

The No. 88 team and Earnhardt Jr. are on their own island and for some reason have not found the rowboat that will bring them back to Hendrick Motorsports and to the equipment and set ups they should be using.

When three of your teammates, plus the satellite teams of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, are succeeding and you are not, someone in the 88 team needs to look around and say: "Hey, maybe we should be doing what they are."

So, it's not the driver, and it's not the crew chief.

It's a team that has not accepted that what made them so successful and the leader of Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, is not working in 2009.

And until they figure that out, Junior Nation is in for a long year.

And if people are still convinced that Earnhardt Jr. or Tony Eury Jr. is the problem and you don't believe an official from Hendrick Motorsports who sees what is going on because he works there, then you probably don't believe that the sky is blue.


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