The Frontstretch: Junior May Be Struggling With Motivation by Kurt Smith -- Friday August 21, 2009

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Junior May Be Struggling With Motivation

Kurt Smith · Friday August 21, 2009


It made me chuckle that Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s recent comments about the state of NASCAR came right around the time I said that the press isn’t responsible for the sport’s declining ratings. I’m sure he didn’t get the idea to be so honest after reading an article by little ol’ me, but I wondered if Eddie D’Hondt was going to chew him out now, too.

For the six of you that haven’t heard Junior’s recent take on things NASCAR, here are some quotes:

“I think we need to open our eyes a little bit. Everyone. NASCAR could probably be a little more urgent in improving our product, where the ultimate result is great, exciting racing that the fans will enjoy, that the drivers enjoy, so everyone is happy.

“I’m not trying to start a crusade against nobody or cause nobody any problems. I think the drivers, myself included, we would all work together with NASCAR to do this. I’m just trying to remind everyone of the optimal goal and prize for us is to have better racing.

“Even when things are good, we shouldn’t rest on any success we may be having. We’re not really where we want to be, I don’t think, as a sport. We need to do things to excite corporate America and excite the fans. We need to be proactive immediately to make that happen.”

Oh, and uh, before the double-file restarts, “95% of the race wasn’t worth the price of the ticket.”

Despite that these statements could come from any Master of the Obvious, a year ago Junior would have gotten his ass whipped by NASCAR for saying this. But in the kinder, gentler NASCAR of today, the only response from Mike Helton was that there would be no changes to the current car, since their concern was the costs for the teams to have to re-learn any new angles.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr’s recent comments to the press about the state of NASCAR is surprising and makes one wonder if he has growing weary of his job.

But given that NASCAR has been holding town hall meetings for drivers for their input, a year after telling them to shut up about the car to the press, you have to wonder if the sport’s biggest star doesn’t even care what they think now. Even with NASCAR attempting to be better listeners, it’s still surprising to see a popular driver be so vocal about the sport’s problems to a press that he has to know by now will eat it up and spit it out all over the Internet, which, of course, they did.

It’s doubtful that Junior’s recent comments about the car are his way of deflecting blame for his struggles on the track. He’s smarter than that. That was the knee-jerk reaction of his detractors of course, but it’s a little too easy for him not to know that that would happen. In the past, earlier this year even, he’s been more than willing to take responsibility for not doing as well as people think he should.

Earlier this year, Junior came out and publicly defended his embattled cousin and crew chief, asserting that he was a capable mechanic and that Eury was who he wanted to run with no matter what the results. It didn’t sound like something that his father would have said.

And a year ago, he also rightly opined that the season was too long.

It’s not that the guy does nothing but complain, but you have to wonder sometimes if he’s growing weary of this job. The pressure on any Cup driver is enormous, and it’s squared for the son of a departed legend.

Almost since his Cup career began, Little E has had the weight of the auto racing universe on his shoulders. He had to get back in a racecar a week after his father passed. He was put into a bright national spotlight suddenly and at a young age and has had to hold the title of ambassador ever since. As he was expected to start winning more and more, there were the public battles with his stepmother. When it could not be resolved and turned ugly in the press, he ended up leaving the company his father founded, which had to be painful knowing the team would suffer without him. Then came the high expectations of driving for the strongest team…and not living up to them. And the abuse and eventual dismissal of his cousin as a crew chief. And the lack of respect from young hotshots.

More than any other driver in the sport’s history, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has had to live his life in a fishbowl. Not only is the pressure great, he has to live up to expectations that the best in this sport couldn’t live up to, and answer for why he hasn’t. For all of his fame and fortune, I don’t envy the guy.

To Junior’s enormous credit, he has handled all of it very well and still doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. But more and more evident are cracks in his love for racing. Maybe he is as frustrated as many of us with NASCAR’s “progress”. If losing Rockingham was hard on some of us, what must it have been like for a driver who grew up as a wide-eyed kid watching his father race there?

Junior isn’t the driver his father was. Not many were. But Senior didn’t have the onus of living up to a famous name, or carrying a sport on his shoulders. It can’t be as fun as it used to be. It’s one thing for Casey Mears to run in the 20s week in and week out. That isn’t a surprise. But when your father was one of the greats and you are driving for the best team, not winning any races is unacceptable to many. And the weight may be showing in the mental lapses on pit roads and elsewhere.

It may not even be a conscious thing. Junior certainly sounds optimistic and motivated to contend and win when asked about the subject in interviews. Surely this team has gotten a lift from Michigan. I’m sure he’s not phoning it in out there, but perhaps subconsciously there’s a part of him that wants to spend a little more time fishing on a quiet lake and a little less time trying to figure out how to race a car that handles like a bus.

NASCAR can’t live on what Junior thinks. Nor can they go out of their way to keep him from being disgruntled if they don’t want to lose every other driver’s fans. But for him to be this vocal about the car, he must either be assured that NASCAR won’t reprimand him for taking his complaints public, or he no longer cares if they do. My hunch is that after fighting to pilot the mandated flying brick for two years, it’s the latter. Given NASCAR’s well-known ability to get drivers in line in the past, one wonders if he’s inwardly ready to tell NASCAR to take this job and shove it, even if he has no plans to.

He may be aware that in times like these, NASCAR can no longer tell a driver of Junior’s stature who needs who more.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • The newsletter reported today that a new roller coaster will be opening in Kings Dominion amusement park in Virginia called the ‘Intimidator 305’, named after the big guy himself. What’s the 305 for? You guessed it…305 feet high before the initial drop. And 90 MPH. I am THERE next year.
  • And I also see that drivers will be coming out to songs of their choice in the driver introductions this weekend. I got a good laugh out of Reed Sorenson’s choice—after reading that Mark Martin is coming out to AC/DC and Tony Stewart is coming out to Kid Rock, Reed will be entering the stage to the sound of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Remember, nice boys don’t get girls pregnant.
  • Despite the new brotherly love inherent in the pre-Chase Bristol races, I still look forward to the track more than most on the schedule. Maybe it’s because I associate it with being on vacation as I will be soon.
  • When talking to Carey and Coffey at ESPN, I advised Matt Carey not to ceremoniously kick Brian Vickers out of the Chase just yet. He didn’t seem to agree. I should have offered a wager.

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:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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

08/21/2009 06:33 AM

Maybe the fans are struggling with motivation as much as Junior. Judging by the steadily declining TV ratings, the economy isn’t the only problem Nascar has. I know I no longer plan my Sunday around a race. In fact, I sold my tickets to the night race this year, and won’t be renewing my Bristol tickets for next year. It has a lot to do with the lackluster racing everywhere (and particularly at Bristol the past several years) rather than the economy, as Nascar likes to use as their convenient excuse. I never thought I would voluntarily give up my season tickets to Bristol.

08/21/2009 07:51 AM

I congratulate Jr. for speaking his piece, it’s called the “free speech” theory, something of course NA$CRAP certainly does not support!

BUT! Remember, all the other wimps, I mean “drivers”, still are in fear of NA$CRAP!

Not a peep out of those other drivers!

And it ain’t because they like the POS, it is because they operate in fear!

And we call it “racing”?

Yeh, right!

08/21/2009 08:05 AM

Junior lacking motivation has been one of my main theories for well over a year now. I think Jeff Gordon is even starting to fall into category (granted, he is still driving pretty good, but not great like he used to).

Both of these guys have all the money they’ll ever need. Junior has many obvious reason not to like “racing” NASCAR-style, a.k.a., for entertainment instead of pure racing. And Gordon is getting up there in years and is now suffering from the abuse most sports cause to your body.

These aren’t the money hungry guys, like Bill Gates, who live to make money. These guys live to race. And NASCAR appears to be going out of their way to make racing a lot less fun. Just listen to all the pre-race shows and how all the drivers are racing dirt or go-karts and talk about it in a way that makes it sound like it is the funnest thing they have ever done.

To sum up what I am trying to say is that NASCAR has killed racing, to the point that it is not only losing fans, but it is starting to lose the drivers’ interest too.

So if you are a Junior or a Gordon and you sit back and look at your pile of cash, you have to think that, sooner rather than later, you would be calling it quits… unless things change.

Ghost of curtis Turner
08/21/2009 08:06 AM

When people stop going to Bristol it’s time for NA$CAR to wake up!!!!
Hey Brian, put down the can of coke and do the honorable thing…resign and take Mike H with you…. admit you screwed up with this lousy car and turning the race in to racetainement instead of a sport.
The first clue to we poor fans that things were going to stink should have been when they announced Bret Bodine was in charge of the new car development…. You remember him, he was famous for buying Junior Johnson’s Championship Team at the time the most successful NASCAR team ever and running into the ground.
Oh my at least Dale Jr had the stones to admit he aint doing well, but at least he ain’t drinking the Brian France Cool Aid….

Wake Up People!

08/21/2009 08:32 AM

Hey of Ghost of curtis turner, your statement “Hey Brian, put down the can of coke”, just ain’t accurate, because the “coke” King Brian is snorting does not come in a can!


AND! Doing some thinking, I wonder if King Brian is sweating bullets now that the Swiss Bank Accounts are no longer “hidden”! Wonder if King Brian is one of those tax-evaders to be named?

Don’t be surprised!

08/21/2009 09:40 AM

Kurt, thank you for having the guts to put in print what Jr is feeling. Commenters above, thank you for your take on this situation. The truth hurts, doesn’t it Mike Helton. You got on this like a duck on a junebug (no pun intended). I am getting close to the “I don’t give a darn” place. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

amy anderson
08/21/2009 10:12 AM

Finally, a driver who isn’t afraid to take on the Bubbas! But it doesn’t appear that the Bubbas are taking any of it to heart. In fact, they are ready to force the COT onto the NW series next year, so that what has been some really good racing this season will turn into another borefest next season. Oh well, that is the nature of existence-good years and bad years, until it dies or someone with vision revives it. Right now, NASCAR racing has one foot in the grave.

bobby bouchet
08/21/2009 11:10 AM

Nascars excuse for not fixing the car is “it will cost too much money” how much money are these teams spending to try and get this pos err i mean COT to turn through the middle of the corner?? The reason there is no side by side racing is because the drivers have so little control of the car,they are not driving it in to a turn they are pointing it in and hoping it sticks,case in point Mark Martin last week after qualifing he was scared shitless WAKE UP NASCAR before we all walk away

08/21/2009 11:50 AM

This takes me back to the late-1980s when Darrell Waltrip jilted Junior Johnson and signed on with Hendrick to run the #17 Tide Chevy. Even with the best of everything, and other than his only Daytona 500 win, the #17 team did not win championships, as expected.

Now fast-forward a couple of decades and history is repeating itself with Hendrick and Junior. That is because championship Cup teams cannot be thrown together like classic rock supergroups. Every Cup champion team has been grown organically.

08/21/2009 12:00 PM

JR along with others (before they were slapped senseless by NASCAR) made legitimate complaints. I tire of seeing cars that are identical except for stickers and engine, reminds me too much of IROC. It almost sounds like if you don’t have any food “eat cake” attitude is what NASCAR believes.

08/21/2009 12:18 PM

If Jr starts winning and says this, they will have to listen. They blowing it off now and calling him a poor loser. Go! Jr

Kurt Smith - Frontstretch Staff
08/21/2009 12:33 PM

JT, the supergroup analogy may be the best I’ve ever heard. I know a lot of people liked Asia, but I expected a lot better from the talent in that group.

08/21/2009 12:35 PM

And more regarding the POS!

Came in for lunch, egg sandwhich by the way, right from my own chickens, time is about 12:10PM, practice from Bristol is on.

Low & behold, they actually showed a side by side of a NWS car, and the POS! They showed how much movement the NWS car had going down the straight, and how LITTLE the POS exhibited, they also went on to try and describe how this “affects the handling” of the POS!

Golly gee! A revelation!

A revelation we all know, and have known!

And for that, the announcers have been “called to the hauler”, probably for their whipping by Helton & company!

08/21/2009 04:21 PM

Poor JR., there’s just 8,088whatever million excuses for him. Not motivated? Why should he be? Jr. can make $$$ just riding around in 20th someplace, and delusional Jr. Nation suckers will keep on buying t-shirts, just because they like Jr. as he is. Is Jr. feeling pressure because of his name? Well DUH! Maybe poor Jr. should have gone by his first name, RALPH, instead of milking and living off Dale Sr. name. The COT with less down force, seperated the really good drivers from the average drivers. With the down force the old car had, average at best drivers like Jr. could have occasional success. The embarassing red-headed stepchild at HMS can’t keep up with other 3 Championship Caliper Drivers at HMS, so now he crys to the media. Remember Jr. “could win if he had better equipment”, well he does now and still can’t win.

archie harrison
08/21/2009 04:24 PM

thanks douglas. that post about the side by side of the NWS vs POS was very enlightening. wish i could find it on youtube or somewhere.

08/21/2009 04:28 PM

hey overrated. just how in heck do you drive a caliper? maybe you should try a dictionary instead of spell check.

archie harrison
08/21/2009 05:15 PM

calipers do not drive. they are part of a cars brake system. try again Overrated

Michael in SoCal
08/21/2009 05:26 PM

Hey overrated – It’s so much easier to denigrate someone anonymously than to add to a discussion, isn’t it? Keep it up with those Championship ‘Caliper’ comments.

08/21/2009 05:39 PM

Hey “archie harrison”, that sequence was on maybe about 12:15PM this afternoon while practice was on. I was actually SHOCKED, that they would air such a thing as it is the “reason” why the POS does not handle, and is everything the drivers are talking about!

After Jr.‘s airing at MIS, Jeff Gordon’s comment was “well, I wish these cars (POS), had more adjustability!


I just wish more people would understand why the POS is a poorly developed race car. This lack of movement, all bound up on it’s own suspension, is another reason it is not a good road race car. Road race cars, and circle track cars, all need things like weight transfer, front to back, side to side, to get proper bite to go thru corners.

That is also why you do hear the drivers at times simply say, “with the POS you simply point it and hope that’s where it goes”!

No feedback to the driver, thru such things as weight transfer, and such.

And it’s another reason the POS is prone to “rear wheel hop” under braking! There is no suspension to accomodate the braking forces, thus the rear wheels just start hopping!

A sick case indeed!

I have read on this blog several people that go to the track and the only thing that impresses them is “cars with 800HP & they way they sound”!

They don’t have a clue as to the handling of a race car is what makes racing!

Hope this helps understand things.


08/21/2009 07:57 PM

Great article! Glad you had the nerve to defend some of Jr.‘s comments. We all know he has had a bad year but what he said about the COT is exactly what the long time fans feel. Unlike what Brian De Los Santos said in his article yesterday, “that racing was as good as it has always been”, we long time fans know better. He like so many of the journalists are either too young or are too fearful of Nascar to really tell it like it is. Most of today’s articles are almost as boring as the racing. Your article today was a breath of fresh air. Keep up the good work.

08/22/2009 08:31 AM

Hey archie harrison, more,

if you can watch a replay of the nationwide race, watch for a “head-on” shot of the cars coming at you down the straight! The NW series cars lift the nose up a good 4” or 5” off the ground, then when they get to braking the car dips right down to the track, almost, if not rubbing the front “air dam”, as it is called.

On the POS, with it’s hated “splitter”! When the Cup car accelerate down thE track, again, the head-on shot, the “splitter” maybe moves about 2”, very limited movement!

This movement, on each of the cars, is the travel the chassis has on the supsension, travel that allows the cars to handle, or in the case of limited travel, i.e. the POS! NOT HANDLE!

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