The Frontstretch: 2009 Season Review: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by Toni Montgomery -- Wednesday December 9, 2009

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2009 Season Review: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Toni Montgomery · Wednesday December 9, 2009

 

2009 Ride: No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2009 Primary Sponsors: National Guard / AMP Energy Drink
2009 Owner: Rick Hendrick
2009 Crew Chief: Tony Eury, Jr., Lance McGrew

Stats: 36 Races, 0 Wins, 2 Top 5s, 5 Top 10s, 0 Poles, 25th in Points.
Best Finish: 2nd – Talladega, April.
Average Finish: 23.2.

High Point: Give me a minute…I’ll think of something. Seriously, there weren’t a lot of high points for Junior in what was the worst year of his Sprint Cup Series career. He did finish second at Talladega in April, and led 41 laps at Kansas in the fall before succumbing to engine problems. What makes that performance so important is that it is indicative of the improvements that began to show in the team with new crew chief Lance McGrew at the helm. But really, 25th with an average finish of 23.2 for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in a Hendrick Motorsports car. There weren’t many high points in this season.

Low Point: This one is a whole lot easier, although now there might be too many to choose from. One thing, however, does stand out as the lowest of the low. The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May was just ugly. It was the last race with Tony Eury, Jr. as crew chief, and it’s not hard to see why. Driver and crew chief spent the entire race at each other’s throats and finished 40th with a car that didn’t seem to have anything wrong with it other than the fact that it’s two principals couldn’t seem to come to any agreement as to how to make it move forward. That was the race and the result that finally spurred team owner Rick Hendrick, who had previously vowed to let crew chief and driver work it out on their own, to step in, make an executive decision, and make a change at the helm of this team.

Summary: This was an eventful year for the 88 team and not at all in a good way. It became apparent that something was amiss here early in the year. Then crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. was not high on the list of many fans who questioned his abilities but Junior attempted to defend his cousin and his calls as crew chief. However, the problems continued and the relationship between crew chief and driver deteriorated right along with it until team owner Rick Hendrick had to step in and make the change after a travesty of a performance at the Memorial Day classic 600 miler in May. Lance McGrew was called in to pick up the pieces and slowly but surely, as the cars took on more of his input, it appeared things would improve. That’s when the worst streak of bad luck any driver has likely experienced began. The team honestly showed some muscle toward the end of 2009 only to have just about every effort end with blown engines, cut tires, or accidents, much of which wasn’t their doing. How bad did the bad luck get? Junior’s pit crew was involved in an accident while riding to the track in a van before the Phoenix race.

Team Ranking: 25th in points puts Earnhardt well and truly behind his three teammates who finished first, second and third in the Sprint Cup championship. Points position aside, Junior really was the fourth out of four drivers on his Hendrick Motorsports team this season. Part of that is the fact that two of his teammates are Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and they are not your ordinary driver. Another part of that is that team owner Rick Hendrick threw the biggest part of his effort behind Junior’s other teammate Mark Martin in an effort to help Martin win the championship that has always eluded him in what is (maybe?) the waning years of his career. There just wasn’t much left over for Junior.

2010 Outlook: Rick Hendrick admits that Junior was a little overlooked in favor of his teammates in 2009 and wants to put more focus on the 88 team for 2010. Junior has new crew chief Lance McGrew in place and McGrew will be able to start out fresh with his own cars and setups next season so the improvements seen in 2009 when the cars had more of McGrew’s touch to them should be seen even more so in 2010. Now if Junior could just get a visit over the off season from the luck fairy. He needs the off season to get away and clear his head and get a fresh start worse than any other driver perhaps in years. This is a driver that it seems lost quite a bit of faith in both himself and his team. This is a good team and while he may not be on the level of some of his teammates, Junior is a good driver. He’s completely capable of winning some races and making the Chase, although whether those things can happen in 2010 is partly dependent on if the driver can get his head back in the game and also on whether driver and team can start believing in each other and their abilities again.

2006 Frontstretch.com Grade: A-.
2007 Grade: D.
2008 Grade: C+.
2009 Grade: D.

Contact Toni Montgomery

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dans mom
12/09/2009 07:14 AM
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“ Now if Junior could just get a visit over the off season from the luck fairy.” – WAIT! Toni, are you implying that Dale Jr. may be a little light in the loafers?

ginger
12/09/2009 11:11 AM
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To dans mom: Whoever Dan is, I feel sorry that he has a mom who is a little light in the brain. What kind of miserable person are you?

larry hryciw
12/09/2009 11:31 AM
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Juniors problems can all be solved if he got himself a girlfriend. He needs that female backing and his sister can’t take care of everything.

The Old Guy
12/09/2009 03:50 PM
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He needs that female backing and his sister can’t take care of everything.

And, you know this…… How?

Marybeth
12/09/2009 07:10 PM
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Toni, If Nascar, Brian France, are really serious about turning around ‘lackluster falling ratings and attendance’ they need to get Jr. out of HMS and back into a competitive car. 2 Busch Championships and 18 Cup wins aren’t all just flukes. He also needs a proven cc he can trust and have confidence in when going into a corner at 200mph. I have read many remarks that HMS always has one team that is not on a par with the other 3 cars. Jr. has been stuck in 25/88, and I do not see 2010 being any better that 2009 if he is still at HMS. Toni, I hope that you can use your influence to help get Jr. out of HMS& SHR and into a competitive ride for next year. It is not fair to Jr. to do this to him, and it certainly isn’t fair to Nascar ratings and attendance. HMS has let a lot of drivers go. Kyle Bush’s wins did not take off until he got to Gibbs. Getting out of HMS is the best thing that ever happened to him. He could be the one test driving the R&D car for JJ. Let’s see what we can get done here, Toni. Can you imagine the crowd turn out if Jr. were taking to the track back in the #8 car…providing he and Teresa can talk it out, or to RCR? Jr. went to the CMA awards to sell the new Camaro for Chevy, in return they have him driving unsafe, test, R&D cars. He doesn’t owe Chevy anything! I would be happy with Jr. going to Gibbs. They only have 3 cars now. Anywhere where they would give him a competitive car and a fighting chance I would be happy with. HMS has had 2 years and has proven that they simply can’t or won’t do it. Another year there will do him in. Marybeth

Another Old Guy
12/09/2009 08:25 PM
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It’s absolutely amazing to me that some people, see ^^ , still believe that Jr. isn’t getting good equipment from HMS.

If you would just open your eyes, you would realize…..

IT ISN’T THE EQUIPMENT!!!!

tom dalfonzo
12/09/2009 08:30 PM
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I have said it time and time again. Dale Jr. needs to drive like his father. I don’t mean for him to be like his father in every way. I just want Junior to drive with his dad’s tenacity and aggressiveness.

Also, he should take his JR Motorsports team to the Cup Series. Get the #8, Budweiser, and a second car with Danica Patrick driving it and they both should go out and beat the world.

Rich
12/09/2009 11:17 PM
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If “fans” won’t watch racing because “their” driver can’t compete then maybe they should switch drivers. A real fan watches regardless of where their guy finishes because they are actually interested in RACING.

Lynnsy
12/10/2009 05:02 AM
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I don’t want to ruffle any feathers among the “anti-Jr.” nation but I don’t think you can blame Jr. for the engine failures or cut tires. I’m not saying it should be blamed on HMS either. No one seems to know why that little black rain cloud seems to loom over him. I do think the guy has to be totally stressed out with all the media attention he gets. He continues to be the most popular driver yet his driving record sucks. Wouldn’t you feel a lot of pressure like you were letting a lot of people down? I can’t help but sympathize with him because he can’t help who his Daddy was and shouldn’t be expected to fill those shoes. Jr. is Jr. and that’s how it is. If he’s happy where he’s at that’s all that’s important. He might be Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the most popular driver in NASCAR but he’s still a human being like the rest of us.

Julia
12/10/2009 03:17 PM
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I have nothing against Jr himself, I am not a fan of his, but I do not hate him either. I think the man tries too hard to please too many people. Trying to please his fans, the image of his father,and NA$CAR itself is tough on any man. Jr does seem to have the same problems with equipment that he did at DEI. He blew more engines there too and his teamates did not. It seems to me given those facts, Jr may just be harder on equpment then others. Jr fans need to accept the fact that Jr is part of the problem. It is not always everyone or everything else’s fault when Jr does not do well. It is sometimes Jr’s fault too. I would love for him to do well in 2010. I want to see all 4 Hendrick drivers in the chase. I wish him luck in 2010.

Rich
12/11/2009 12:30 AM
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Jr will have a guaranteed ride somewhere as long as he chooses to drive. Real pressure is on the guy who enters Cup racing and is expected to compete right away or an impatient sponsor/owner will pull the plug on his brief career before it even gets started. That’s real pressure. Jr needs to suck it up and improve his game.