Racin' with Russ — After more than a decade of competing in NASCAR’s upper divisions, those being Sprint Cup and Nationwide, fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr’s career has seemed to have stalled towards any kind of greatness.
Yes, the guy is the son of one of the most famous race car drivers ever to strap on a helmet and his fan base certainly effects the public's cry for someone of yesteryear greatness.
Yes, he won Late Model races on the short tracks in North Carolina as a teenager and went on to win 23 Busch races, earned 77 top 10’s and captured back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999.
Then he moved on to Cup action while under the Earnhardt banner, racking up 17 wins along the way.
From there, it seems he’s lost the “Eye of the Tiger” to win races since moving over to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. Total stats for his years in Cup look like 412 career Cup starts, 18 total wins, last win at Michigan in June 2008 and 10 poles.
For a while, his outside activities away from the track seemingly sidetracked the young driver/playboy. Since leaving Team Earnhardt, his records are not exactly anything to get excited about. From placing 12th in points in 2008 to 25th and 21st the following two years, it’s refreshing to see a possible light at the end of the tunnel with his current third place standings.
At this point, he has gone nearly three years without a win or 105 races without a trophy. If it were anyone else, Hendrick would not be considering a new three to five year contract, but when you have a cash cow like Junior, sponsors are quite anxious to open their check books, regardless of how good or bad the performance level is.
Imagine cutting checks for $10 to $20 million for a guy that doesn’t win or even earn a berth in the Chase, but exceptions can be made, just look at a similar situation with Danica Patrick.
Dale Jr.’s performance of late is definitely taking a turn for the better with several top five runs and third in points. However, no matter how many teams or crew chief changes occur, Dale Jr. will never win another championship. He’s 36-years-old and I just don’t see the “drive” needed to be a champion.
Now I know all those Junior Nation fans don’t want to hear such things for their driver that can do no wrong and has the ability to seemingly walk on water, but “the right stuff” is gone.
He’s also too nice! He had a chance earlier in the season to grab a win from Kevin Harvick at Martinsville with just the slightest of taps…and he didn’t do it. Had he laid the bumper in the right place, he not only would have broken that cursed losing streak, but fans would have had something to really cheer about.
His famous father probably used the bumper too much at times, but Junior has been totally the opposite, not wanting to upset the apple cart among fellow competitors. I can understand the guy wanting to do things “his way” and not try to be the guy in the black hat, but a little stock car bumping and banging would go a long way to taking some checkered flags and winning back some of those Junior Nation fans that have abandoned ship in hopes of finding a new captain.
What do you think? Drop me a line. Junior Nation fans….All Aboooard!