Dale Earnhardt Jr.: It Wasn't Supposed To Be This Way

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IAugust 9, 2010

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 07:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at Watkins Glen International on August 7, 2010 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

Disappointment may not adequately describe this season considering Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s comments at Fan Fest in Daytona early this year.

"Our goal is to win as many races as we can, win a championship, challenge for the championship," said Earnhardt Jr.

He continued, "I'd like to win....I think anything less than three races this year, I'd be a little disappointed."

The new realignment with duties and personnel in the shop shared with Mark Martin, held promise for the driver of the No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet.

Junior said, "We're just going to go out there and try our hardest to be ruthless from the first lap to the last."

The Hendrick Motorsports driver had every reason to believe he would rebound from his 25th place finish in 2009.

After all, Mark Martin had a glorious year in 2009.  He was runner-up to four-time Nascar Sprint Cup Champion, Jimmie Johnson.

The where-withal available from the GoDaddy.com team would have to have a positive effect on the No. 88 team led by crew chief Lance McGrew.

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For Dale Earnhardt Jr., the current season just wasn't supposed to be like this.

Junior wants to make the Chase each year for his fans, if for no other reason.  He owes them that for standing strong behind him.

He doesn't really care where he finishes the season if he doesn't make the Chase because it becomes irrelevant.

So as Earnhardt Jr. slipped from being in the top 12 to his current 16th place in the points following a 26th place finish at Watkins Glen, you have to wonder if he cares about the four races left before the Chase.

The humiliation of a 40th place start at the Glen must weigh heavy upon the driver of the No. 88 and his team.

It may just be time for Junior and his Nation to realize his career is just not going to show 50 wins and a couple series titles.

Does he want to win? 

Of course. That's the point of racing.

Earnhardt Jr. may have summed up his future when he spoke of his past, "I don't really put a whole lot of pressure on myself.  I've already accomplished more and gotten further in the sport than I probably have dreamed."

The 18-year old worked at his father's Chevrolet dealership in Newton, N.C.; a blue collar job was not to be his future.

Junior was the son of a racing legend and perhaps the best driver ever in NASCAR.

His name was even the same as his father's, so what was he supposed to do except drive a race car?

Dale Jr. always sought approval and interaction from his absentee father.  Racing was a way to connect with his dad and maybe gain his approval.

After the death of his father, Junior was motivated to honor his dad with wins in the DEI Budweiser No. 8 Chevy.

Things went terribly awry at DEI, so a contract with Rick Hendrick would not only provide the best of equipment, but a father figure as well.

Little did Junior realize the culture shock of going from family and DEI to the high tech, intensity that is Hendrick Motorsports.

Earnhardt Jr. is old school, and perhaps an old soul as well.  He is not part of the dedicated mindset typical of the other Hendrick drivers.

He takes care of himself, but heavy fitness regimes like that of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and even 50-year old Mark Martin is not on his agenda.

Junior is not analytical with feedback on his car.  His style is more like saying, "it's loose."  The simple answers worked with those who knew him well. He isn't going to rule his life with every move relating to his on track performance.

He is his own man, though he is surrounded by handlers for everything.

Dale Jr. is reclusive and happy at his wild west personal theme park adjacent to his home.

He has been the face of NASCAR since his father's death.  Junior never intended his life to become what it has with every racing move scrutinized and his personal life always being tracked.

At Watkins Glen, the television shots never included Earnhardt Jr.  The only reference to him other than starting position was from an ESPN reporter who stated the driver of the No. 88 said he had "the worst car he had ever driven."

That is not the first time this season we have heard such a comment from Dale Jr.

It wasn't supposed to be like this, but it is.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will continue to drive at Hendrick Motorsports and fulfill his contract unless he is fired.  That is a scenario unlikely to happen.

Junior Nation will continue to downsize.

The No. 88 team will be the also-ran against Johnson, Gordon, and Kahne just as it is with Martin in the mix now.

Is the disappointing performance of Junior and his team due to the driver? 

Of course it is, he is the man behind the steering wheel.

Is the poor performance totally his fault?

Absolutely not!

It just wasn't all supposed to be like this. The introverted, perennial favorite driver never asked for all the fame and fortune.

Junior was born the son of a man who became a legend in NASCAR and bears his name.  It is a heavy burden for a man so unlike his father.


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