The Frontstretch: An Open Letter To Dale Jr.: Don’t Worry About The Wins by Kurt Smith -- Friday May 16, 2008

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An Open Letter To Dale Jr.: Don’t Worry About The Wins

Happy Hour : The "Official" Journalist Of NASCAR · Kurt Smith · Friday May 16, 2008


Dear Dale Earnhardt, Jr.:

I’m writing to congratulate you on your terrific season so far. Smile, dude… Jeff Gordon would love to be in your position right now.

Still, I’m sure you grow weary of the press harping on that zero in the win column. Just this week alone, Pete Pistone of Racing One wrote a piece entitled Still in Search of Victory Lane. Buddy Shacklette’s column Jr. Nation Appears Alive And Well mentions the streak is now 72 races. Even our own Tom Bowles pointed out the Richmond incident that’s kept you winless in 2008. And so it goes — and will continue — as it has ever since you finished ninth at Daytona. If you listen to much of the racing press, your season so far has been a failure.

Don’t believe it.

You’re third in the standings — even with a DNF on the board. That’s after collecting four Top 5s and eight Top 10s so far…with only one finish out of the Top 15, the “weepers” incident at California. Hey cap’n, maybe I’m in the minority in the racing press, but I’m danged impressed with your first eleven races this year. I’m not sure if anyone informed you of this, but it’s your best start since 2004…and you had inferior equipment back then. If you keep going at that same rate, all you have to do is watch your mouth on TV and you’ll be right back in the hunt for a title.

Keep your chin up, Junior! Not everyone is asking when you’re ever going to win.

So, when some eager beaver reporter asks for the billionth time why you haven’t won this year — after you’ve battled for 500 miles in the heat and finished third, no less — here’s a few answers you could give:

“I’m saving myself for the right race.”

“The gas pedal doesn’t go down far enough.”

Or even, “I’m afraid I might use a bad word in Victory Lane and cost myself points.”

Look, you get the picture: you’re the man as far as visibility. When you win, it’s news. When you don’t win, it’s news. Any product with your name on it sells, including racing articles. Websites are always looking for hits, and you always generate them — positive or negative (Thanks in advance, by the way).

It’s easy to understand why you’re a rock star, to paraphrase your estranged ex-owner. It’s not just being the son of a departed legend; it is also the low-key demeanor and maturity. There is rarely ever any whine out of your mouth, at least publicly, and people notice that. And for all of your considerable fame — even being on People Magazine’s Most Beautiful list, for heaven’s sake — none of it seems to have gone to your head. That is no small feat, especially considering the brightness of the spotlight thrust on you at a very young age.

I have to admit I once rooted against you, as I once strongly pulled against your father. But in eight years of seeing you handle that spotlight, even I’ve grown to become a supporter. However, with that enormous popularity can come unreasonable, almost impossible demands. One of those is the pressure that comes with not always finishing as well as you would like. And it was very clear that it bothered you that your former team’s owner did not seem to share your desire to bring home more wins and a championship for your fans. Junior Nation isn’t shy about their desire to see their hero up front; and it is noble of you to care about making them happy.

Going from the team Dale Sr. started to Hendrick Motorsports, of all places — a team that so many of your fans considered to be the Dark Side — couldn’t have been easy. What was going to happen to your father’s legacy once you left had to be weighing on your mind, as well as whether Junior Nation would consider you a sellout for joining the team that built cars for a hated driver who was once one of Dad’s biggest rivals on the track.

You did the right thing, man. Trust me.

The only problem is that now, driving for an elite team, you are expected to win, win, and win, to utterly dominate the circuit — since everyone knows you are ten times better than those prima donna drivers who lucked into good rides. Just 11 races into the season, the story is not that you’re having your best start since 2004, that you’re on your way to perhaps your best season ever, that you are outperforming all of your teammates — two of whom are multiple Cup champions — or that you have never run this well this consistently. No, the story is that JUNIOR HASN’T WON IN A HENDRICK CAR YET, disregarding that the team you drive for has only been to Victory Lane twice since 2001.

Pressure or no pressure from the racing media and Junior Nation, I’m certain that you would have battled Kyle Busch just as hard for the win at Richmond. That’s fine; it’s what racers do. But clearly in the interview afterward, you seemed a little upset with yourself for not taking the points with a second or third. Maybe you were reaching back for a little extra to quiet the critics (like that’s gonna happen). Not that you were to blame for that incident by any means, but regret was visible in your post-race interview.

Don’t worry, though; I’m here to help, to offer some meaningful advice. It’s simple, and it’s easy: forget what we in the press say about your thus far winless season.

The dirty little secret is that wins aren’t as important as consistency. I know that for you to say so out loud might arouse incredulous ire of the old school racers — especially those who were fans of your father — but it’s perfectly OK to take the points rather than risk wrecking going for a win. Senior won seven titles, in fact, by knowing when to do exactly that.

You’ve already won your fair share of Cup races. Big races, huge races, in fact; like your first win at Daytona after your father’s passing. You’ve won at Bristol. You’ve won at Phoenix and Texas. You’ve won four straight at Senior’s old house, Talladega. And you’ve won the 500, the granddaddy of them all. You’ve been there and done that; another win isn’t going to change that feeling.

So, it’s time to take the next step. Win a championship. You’re due.

And remember that championships don’t go to the driver with the most wins. Sometimes, winning a Cup can be as simple as putting up consistent Top 10 and Top 5 finishes every week, and simply taking the points. Just ask your buddy Matt Kenseth.

I know your fans want to see you get back into Victory Lane, because it has been a little while. I can appreciate that. But week in and week out, no matter how good you and your team are, the odds of winning for any car with 43 of the best of the best on the track are small. So despite what so many think, there is no shame in finishing second in a field of 43 of the best in the world — especially if you can do it more often than anyone else. You’re getting the job done like a champion this season, and don’t let anyone tell you different. There is a reason why they call it “big picture racing.”

I’m not saying don’t try for a win. What I’m saying is to get your best finish each week. Sooner or later, that is going to be first place. You’ll win eventually… but a win is only a win, and simply means you were the best for one week. It’s that championship which will truly place you among the greats.

So, focus on that — even if it means occasionally taking the points, and listening to further complaints from a media member constantly looking for a Junior story.

Myself included.

A Supporting Member of the Racing Press

Kurt’s All-Star Shorts

  • I’ve never been able to stomach the All-Star race in the past; I figure 36 weekends devoted to NASCAR is enough. I once suggested that to make it interesting, they have the All-Star race at a different track each season like baseball does — but I was shot down. Anyone have any thoughts on that?
  • If anyone is looking for advice on who to vote for to be in the race, I suggest following your heart: if you yearn for the days of single car teams, vote for Robby Gordon. If you yearn for old school racers, vote for Bill Elliott. If you’re angry at me about the column I wrote last week, vote for Michael Waltrip. Me? I would pull the lever for David Ragan. He seems like a good guy…
  • This year’s events come complete with a burnout contest, which I think is a great idea. He hasn’t done too many of them in Cup, but Clint Bowyer’s burnouts are killers. If all the driver has to do is a burnout (meaning a firesuit isn’t necessary), Clint should fill the whole track facility with smoke, then emerge from the car to music and lights in an Elvis costume and just start windmilling. How awesome would that be? It’d make the highlight reel every year.
  • I know it’s not related to racing at all, but humor me, for I’m mourning the passing of original Rush drummer John Rutsey this week. Rest in peace, John, and thanks for your part in founding what for 30 years was the greatest rock band ever.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


©2000 - 2008 Kurt Smith and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

05/16/2008 07:11 AM

Good article , excellent perspective on a potentially great driver. Thanks and keep it up Fronstrecth , I love this site.

05/16/2008 07:38 AM

How do you come up with such trashy articles about drivers that “never were”, he is not even a “has been”!!

Oh, your correct, he is consistent! A CONSISTENT LOSER & WHINER!

Wonder how this poor guy feels now that all his press has been taken over by a REAL RACER called Kyle Busch?

05/16/2008 08:06 AM

I want to see racers go for the win, but a driver can’t win one week and wreck another and expect to win a championship. A true contender has to be there at the finish each week. Junior is on the right path and top fives and top tens are going to elevate him into true contention. The wins will come.

05/16/2008 09:11 AM

I guess if one was a close personal friend of Jr’s and thought he needed a pep talk and someones shoulder to cry on is about the only reason a person could do so much gushing.

05/16/2008 09:34 AM

What a great article. I am an avid fan of JR. You hit the nail right on the head!!! A win is only good for one time……a championship is forever. Thanks for telling it like it REALLY is. Marilyn

05/16/2008 10:11 AM

Excellent article. I did not start out as a member of Junior Nation either, but came to admire Dale Junior’s poise and maturity while under the microscope. This long time race fan and now member of Junior Nation has absolutely no complaints about the job Junior has done in 2008. Consistency of top finishes will pay off in the end and the wins will come.

05/16/2008 10:19 AM

Kurt, that was an excellent article. I’m a Junior fan and I couldn’t have said it better myself. Of course, I think it’s an internet requirement that at least one fool comes on and posts a hateful comment about Junior but hey, that’s what happens when someone is insecure about the driver they pull for.

Thanks again!

Lorraine Fabian
05/16/2008 11:18 AM

Great Article…As a long time Junior fan and a pretty good judge of one’s character, I watch people from afar and there is a reason why Junior has so many fans. He has maturity for his young age, whereas Kyle Busch (the speed demon and spoiled brat) has really nothing going for him in life and is one of these people who thrive on the attention of others. He knows that JR. is more popular and he is just trying to divert the attention to himself.
You don’t see any other driver pouting and running to his hauler when things just don’t go his way like a cry baby.
I think the tale of the Tortise and the Hare is a great example. He who is sure footed will win the race.

05/16/2008 11:31 AM

Good article, thank you Kurt. Interesting that you once rooted against him and now you have seen the error of your ways! Truth is there wouldn’t be any reason for me to watch Nascar at all if it were not for this man – yes, I’m proud to say he has become my very brave hero! Go Dale #88!!!!!

Kevin in SoCal
05/16/2008 12:57 PM

Hey Lorraine, Jr is 10 years older than Kyle Busch is, so of course he is more mature. I’m sure you were a lot more mature at 33 than you were at 23, as well. Kyle is just experiencing too much success too soon, and let it go to his head.

05/16/2008 01:06 PM

Good article, Kurt.
Well said, Karne, there will always be those insecure souls who have to bash others on the net.
Kurt, I have to disagree with you on one thing: Rush still IS the greatest rock band in the world!

05/16/2008 01:06 PM

I can’t believe you referenced Pistone or an article he wrote. He is a hack and in dire need to actually use a freakin spell checker. I think if we just stopped writing about, and reading about, Jr, he would have one less brick on his shoulders. He’ll be just fine. There has GOT to be other drivers out there to write about, isn’t there?

“…ten times better than those prima donna drivers who lucked into good rides…” Who are you thinking about here? I would have to assume its the “elite team” you spoke of prior to the quote. Gordon and Johnson lucked into good rides? You can’t be serious. Both of those rides were CREATED around driver, crew chief and owner. Thanks for the laugh!

Leave the “All-Star” race right were it is. The track and the date.

The Burnout Contest is already over – Kevin Harvick wins hands down. A straight-line street burnout beats a donut every time.

FS Kurt
05/16/2008 01:54 PM

HankZ, just for clarification, since I may not have worded it well enough, I don’t actually think that Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are “prima donnas who lucked into good rides”. I said it that way because that is the opinion of many out there, not Junior fans per se but fans in general. It is most certainly not my opinion. My fault if it is interpreted that way.

05/16/2008 02:12 PM

This is not NASCAR related, but I’m truely sorry to hear of John Rutseys’ passing. First time I saw Rush he was still their drummer. Rock On! Mike.

05/16/2008 03:40 PM

Roger wilco Kurt.
Sometimes I write myself fast too. :)

05/16/2008 11:23 PM

Hey Douglas. How ‘bout that Truck Race? Just gotta love Karma. Too bad Speed didn’t talk to Mr. Potatoe Head,‘scuse me, a REAL RACER after that result. No “rookie lap truck”, but a Champion driver made a mistake. Apology accepted? Doubt it.
Not a member of Jr. Nation.

05/16/2008 11:53 PM

They couldn’t have interviewed Kyle Busch after the truck race because he doesn’t grant interviews unless he wins!! And if he wrecks in the race, he leaves the track so there couldn’t possibly be an interview, now could there?

05/17/2008 08:36 AM

Sorry all! Do not watch the Truck Series!

But! To clarify once and for all:



Unless of course just riding around collecting points is your version of “racing”!!

It certainly isn’t to me!

05/17/2008 05:19 PM

“the Richmond incident that’s kept you winless in 2008.”

Who was passing who there? I belive Jr. was getting passed for the lead by Kyle Bush. So, if they had not crashed, it’s fair to say that Kyle Bush could of won, and very possibly had a better chance of victory than Jr. Normally the guy getting passed isn’t the person who “would of won”.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the next Kyle Petty. Get used to it, and your life will be much better, and you won’t have to write pep talks for Jr.

I’m waiting for him to cry after one of these races.

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