The Frontstretch: Junior Grows Up - And His Future With HMS Is Brighter Than Ever by Amy Henderson -- Wednesday June 13, 2007

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Junior Grows Up - And His Future With HMS Is Brighter Than Ever

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Wednesday June 13, 2007


Editor’s Note: With all the excitement surrounding Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s recent announcement, Holding A Pretty Wheel moves to a special Thursday edition this week. It will be back in its usual Friday slot for next week and beyond.

Note #2 : For more on the official announcement, please click here for Frontstretch columnist Mike Neff’s exclusive report from JR. Motorsports in Mooresville.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. became Wednesday what he has always wanted to be: his own man. His announcement that he would drive for former archrival Hendrick Motorsports beginning in 2008 was both a surprise and not, because while the story was leaked on Tuesday, until that point it was largely believed that Earnhardt would sign with either Joe Gibbs Racing or Richard Childress Racing, the organization where his father had so much success. But in the end, this decision was not about money, nor equipment, nor even his father's legacy. It was about friendship. Earnhardt chose to drive for a man who has "known him since he was a puppy" – and he’ll be all the better for it.

A few weeks ago, such a deal seemed, at first glance, dead in the water. But reading between the lines, from Jimmie Johnson on his radio program, never once outright denying the speculation, to Kyle Busch's continued misbehavior and subsequent rumblings of Busch being unhappy with "not fitting in" with his more mature teammates, the possibility was never really dead. As recently as Dover two weeks ago, there were rumors that a deal with Joe Gibbs Racing was all but done, but such speculation turned out to mask other opportunities for Earnhardt being brokered behind the scenes. In the end, he chose to align himself with HMS after all, a team that is dominating NASCAR Nextel Cup racing this year to the tune of ten wins in 14 races.

As a NASCAR fan as well as a writer, I was thrilled with the news. This puts three of my favorite drivers on the same team. If only Kenny Wallace could get a gig in the No. 24, life in Amy's NASCAR Land would be just about perfect. But putting emotions aside (you don't really want to watch me do the Dance of Joy…it's kind of scary, really) the move was clearly a good one for everyone involved.

Earnhardt will finally have the chance to prove he's a championship caliber driver – or not. Either way, he now has the equipment to prove it. He also gets an owner who will guide him in the way that a father figure can, and teammates who will work with him driving similar cars. They’ll also offer advice all along the way; Jeff Gordon has helped Earnhardt since his father's death in the 2001 Daytona 500, and the two have always had tremendous respect for one another. As for Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson, both are close in age and possess a strong determination to win. Both are shy when the cameras are watching, but have a playful side and have been friends for a long time. Casey Mears also has that same playful side, meaning all four drivers should fit together well as teammates. But beyond the comradery, their drive to win, even at one another's expense, will only make Earnhardt race harder and smarter than he ever has before.

Hendrick Motorsports has long had the reputation of being the "evil empire" of NASCAR – after all, HMS has Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt's antithesis, and this polarized the fans. Plus, HMS has won, and won often in the last fifteen years, which hasn't exactly thrilled fans of other teams' drivers. Many of Earnhardt, Jr.'s fans have said that they will not follow him now because of their hatred, but others will tag along to his new team, perhaps discovering along the way that the team wins because they have an incredible personnel structure. The equipment is great, no doubt, but so it is at other organizations as well. HMS is dominant because of the people that Rick Hendrick surrounds himself with. Earnhardt is the newest person to be put in place, but Hendrick would not, no matter what his name is, bring on somebody who will upset the apple cart and cause any internal strife. He just cut loose a young, talented driver who couldn't seem to learn the Hendrick way – you can bet Hendrick wouldn't replace him with someone who will do the same. Junior brings knowledge, a monster fan base, and a burning desire to win races and championships with him to his new stable. Who wouldn't want a thoroughbred like that?

Many of Earnhardt's fans feel the move is the NASCAR equivalent of Luke Skywalker running off to party with Darth Vader while the galaxy crumbles around them. Conversely, many fans of Gordon, Johnson, and Mears fear that Earnhardt will demand the equipment and crews, maybe even the car numbers of HMS' senior drivers. They feel that Earnhardt wants to be the top dog at any cost. Well, not only would Hendrick not put up with any shenanigans, but that perception is largely untrue. Earnhardt's FANS want it, to be sure. So does a large part of the media. However, Earnhardt has never indicated, in any way, that he has this type of agenda. He just wants to be happy.

And, should things go as expected, Earnhardt should be happy indeed for the next five years. He'll be surrounded by friends who want only the best for him, but who will make him work for it every step of the way, setting the bar higher than ever before. He'll have only the best cars and crew. He'll have mutual respect – and nothing but – with his car owner. He'll be teammates – and equals – with some of the best wheelmen in NASCAR. And he'll do it on his terms. He’s no longer in his father’s constant shadow. NASCAR's favorite son has come of age.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

06/14/2007 01:48 AM

I’m Earnhardt diehard all the way. I’ve got no problem with the move to Hendrick. Top notch organization. I’ve always known something was missing for Jr. Was it the driver or the organization? Now we’ll all find out. If Jr. wins or loses ther’s nothing thats going to get in my way. I still despise Jeff Gordon and I still despise the wicked stepmother.

06/14/2007 06:24 AM

I too, will NEVER be anything but a Gordon hater, however it will be interesting to find out if Jr. can run with the big dogs in equal euiptment.Just a shame h didn’t go to Ford!!

06/14/2007 07:37 AM

HMS is truly having a unbelievable year—but even they cant be his good. From your article:

In the end, he chose to align himself with HMS after all, a team that is dominating NASCAR Nextel Cup racing this year to the tune of 14 wins in ten tries.

Managing Editor
06/14/2007 08:27 AM

Hey Chuck! Thanks for writing in…just wanted to let you know the sentence you mentioned is indeed factually correct. HMS stands for Hendrick Motorsports, and they have won ten times in fourteen races this season…hard to believe, but true!

06/14/2007 10:21 AM

Hey Managing Editor — Chuck is right. You may want to have ANOTHER look at the sentence:

“In the end, he chose to align himself with HMS after all, a team that is dominating NASCAR Nextel Cup racing this year to the tune of 14 wins in ten tries.”

Maybe it’s the “new math,” but I didn’t think it was possible to win 14 times in 10 tries. I agree with you that not only is it possible, but it actually happened that HMS has won 10 times in 14 tries!

And by the way, I just don’t get the Gordon hating! Both Earnhardts liked Gordon and worked with him on and off the track! Gordon also has a very similar driving style to Sr. in that he’s not afraid to move people out of the way for a win on occasion. Is it just that the guy’s a really good driver? If so, shake yourselves. So he’s PC. Just appreciate the good racing he provides on a weekly basis and expect Jr. to do the same now that he has such a fine program providing him the same equipment and resources. I’m sure they’ll both be better for being teammates.

Managing Editor
06/14/2007 04:29 PM

Well, I’m embarrassed! Goes to show that everyone makes mistakes – my apologies, Chuck and fans, and the error has been corrected.

Although, I do think it would be much more newsworthy for Hendrick to have 14 wins in 10 tries…what a breaking news story we’d have on our hands!

06/14/2007 07:14 PM

Personally, I’m ready for the 2008 season to get under way. I want to see if the dominant JR. that I remember from the Busch series days is still there, with great cars.

And I wonder, will the grandstand idiots throw away pefectly good beer if Jeff Gordon manages to be in the right place at the right time in a restrictor plate race again, thus beating his new teammate?


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.