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Thompson in Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Tuesday October 23, 2007
This Monday at Atlanta, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will officially test a No. 88 Chevrolet with Hendrick Motorsports for the first time. That in-season move is just the latest in a transition that appears to be accelerating a bit faster than initially anticipated. Out of the Chase and out of the running for anything higher than 13th in the final point standings, it’s clear that Junior’s focus is quickly turning ahead towards 2008.
There’s just one problem with that: he still has a job to do for the rest of 2007 – and so does DEI.
What has transpired since the start of the 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup by the No. 8 Budweiser team is nothing short of a half-hearted commitment to performance. And no, this is not all about the string of engine failures, common knowledge as to what’s supposed to be their continual Achilles Heel. Instead, this is about a team that has packed it in, content to collect sponsorship fees, paychecks, and simply move forward to make preparations for next season – with little to no regard for what happens now. And although I am often accused of being negatively biased in my opinion of Dale Jr., rest assured that I believe this is clearly a team effort. No doubt, DEI is every bit as culpable in the pathetic late-season performance being put forth as Junior himself.
Of course, you can’t completely turn a blind eye to the rash of mechanical failures with this team; at Martinsville, late race engine woes dropped him out of the Top 5 and nearly led to his eighth DNF of the season, a number which would set a record as Junior’s career high. Honestly, I have no idea what the scoop is on the raggedy engines that DEI has installed in the No. 8 cars. Maybe they are some kind of R&D experiment gone bad with the newly aligned engine departments of DEI and Richard Childress Racing, which would at least be an understandable explanation for their unreliability. After all, who better than Junior to do some R&D work during his 10-week forced stay at DEI before bolting to what he hopes will be greener pastures? All of the RCR drivers are currently championship contenders, as is DEI’s Martin Truex, Jr., a scenario which obviously exempts them from running any unproven equipment. Of course, there’s the No. 15 and No. 01 teams to consider, too; but unlike Junior, they employ drivers who are returning to the organization next year. In the end, it’s just another feather in the cap that for all Junior's assertions to the contrary, his bag is already half-packed to leave – and he’s got one foot out the DEI door as you read this.
But what about the way this team has handled a pending divorce? DEI seems to be not only resigned to the "let’s just get this over with" arrangement, as well, but they’re willing to facilitate the indifferent attitude that has become evident in the No. 8 camp. This first became glaringly apparent when in late September DEI consented to not only let Junior's cousin and crew chief, Tony Eury, Jr., out of his contractual obligations for next year, but later agreed to not even force him to finish out the rest of this current season. In a surprising move, they permitted him move over to the Hendrick Motorsports shop as early as two weeks ago to start work on the future of his new program. Tony Jr., who has been with Dale Jr. for six of his seven Cup seasons, left with his driver’s blessing, as the two were solidly in agreement the mechanic needed to pave the way for their new team’s 2008 Cup efforts. However, that appears to contradict Junior’s repeated comments that he desires to win a race this season. Apparently, the guy means that only if he doesn't need to do it with his highly valued crew chief.
That move surprised me, because I had initially been impressed and encouraged by Junior’s repeated assertions that he was committed to winning before season’s end. Yet when a "full court press" should have been in play to finish out the 2007 season on a winning note, it is disappointing to see that neither the driver nor the owner cared enough to make the effort. Sure, Junior would like to win a race this season. That is not a unique desire among race car drivers, though; most do prefer to win. Unfortunately, there is little focus, commitment, or dedication by either Junior or DEI to getting there with what little time they have remaining together.
Longtime DEI employee Steve Hmiel provided – as part of his explanation for his recently announced departure from the organization – more evidence that neither management nor Junior is singularly dedicated to that cause. Hmiel, who served as Dale Jr's. race day spotter, said, “When Junior didn’t make the Chase and the No. 1 did, DEI wanted me in the garage to help fix wrecks and stuff like that.”
Hmiel continued, “They said Junior wants to try out his spotter for next year; he’s not in the Chase, so it’s not as critical as it wasâ€¦”
Now, if you’re truly committed to winning, wouldn’t you be willing to stay the course with the team you’re already with? Changes are hard enough when people are staying together – they’re ten times worse when they all know this season will end with everyone going in 1,000 different directions.
Following this weekend's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, DEI will participate in two days of Car of Tomorrow testing with DEI driver Regan Smith behind the wheel of the No. 8. That is understandable; he is slated to run a DEI CoT at Atlanta next season. But what is not so understandable is that DEI has agreed to release Junior to go and test with Hendrick Motorsports – with none other than the recently defected Tony Eury, Jr. assisting him there. Vice President of DEI, John Story, said, "We recognize that Dale, Jr. and Tony Jr. both need to get going with their new program, and we’re not going to stand in their way.”
Clearly, the 2007 season shouldn’t stand in their way, either. Upper management of DEI, every bit as much as Dale, Jr., has made a conscious decision to "write off" what’s left with the No.8 team, simply choosing to start anew next year. Given the circumstances surrounding the highly publicized departure of Junior next season, they apparently did not have the desire and / or ability to motivate everyone involved to fulfill their obligations to the organization, sponsors, and fans to the best of their abilities through the last race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Maybe we should have seen this coming. As acrimonious as the relationship has been between Junior and his stepmother, Teresa Earnhardt, owner of DEI, perhaps it should be no surprise that Junior is only going through the motions and sticking around more out of legal obligations and his sponsors rather than any desire to leave on a winning note. If it’s true, that’s truly a shame; there could and should have been a better end to Junior's driving career for the team that bears his father’s name.
Too bad no one involved cared enough to try and make it happen.
©2000 - 2008 Tommy Thompson and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
I think you’re nuts if you don’t think Jr. is trying his best. He could easily just wreck his car in the beginning of each race and walk away from it if he didn’t care. It’s a lost season for him and the team. So who wouldn’t be thinking ahead to next year? I can’t wait for this season to be over. How can you win a race if your equipment doesn’t last until the end? Did you watch the Martinsville race? How do you run in the top 4 at the end of the race with a bum engine if you are only “going through the motions”? Your conclusions are idiotic. It’s no surprise that you are “often accused of being negatively biased in your opinion of Dale Jr.”, as you try to twist the facts to make your point.
I agree with Randy. The nly one who seems to have given up on this season is DEI. How many times was Junior runing in the top 10, only to have an engine blow up? I agree that the acrimony doesn’t seem to be limited to Junior, but with many of those associated with him. In fact, most of those who helped Dale Sr. get DEI off the ground have departed and been replaced by the ‘new regime.
Hey Randy, I agree with you 100 percent!!!!! the writer is nuts—no, I take it back, he’s an idiot.
Nascar is so competitve these days that running in the top 5 is a feat in itself. If the car is off just a little bit you could easily be running 30th. How about pit stops…same deal you lose a second in the pits you can easily lose 10 spots. I think you owe an appology to people at DEI that put their heart and sole in ALL their drivers to be successful.
Sorry, but I think you have not been watching the same races I have and watched Dale Junior and the crew gut it out the best they can with failing engines. How many drivers would put it to the edge and keep a sick car in the top 5 as long as he does before the engines go south?
If you dislike Dale Junior that much why don’t you write about someone else.
You owe him and the good employees at DEI an apology.
You just wanted hits on this article and you succeeded.
If Junior had given up on the season, he would be far back from 13th place, the highest he could possibly finish after missing the chase. Week after week we have seen him working his way through the field only to have his equipment let him down.
You and we have no idea of what Junior, Steve Hmiel or any of the other DEI team members have to deal with on a daily basis. I agree that everyone is trying to get past this and on to 2008. But as I listen to Junior in interviews and on the radio during races, it is clear the he and his team have not checked out on this season yet.
I’m not even a Jr. Fan I say you missed the mark. If you want to see half heart atteps and poor team performance look at my poor guy DJ! He’ been hung out to dry by an employer that was just looking for Provisional Points and a Big Sponsor.
No The Number 8 teams problems go deeper than the crew and Jr. It all starts at the top and trickels down. My wife and I listened to Jr. this past weekend on the scanner, He was practilclly in Tears over the performance of the car and the engine, Do you really think this is how he wants to leave the Team his Daddy Started for him?
And please don’t get me started on that mess. At least the Jr. Fans will have something to cheer about next year, My driver is just in for the first 6 races so MW can have his car in the top 35. Now thats really something to B!^ch about
“DEI will participate in two days of Car of Tomorrow testing with DEI driver Regan Smith behind the wheel of the No. 8. That is understandable; he is slated to run a DEI CoT at Atlanta next season. But what is not so understandable is that DEI has agreed to release Junior to go and test with Hendrick Motorsports” –
Huh? What the flip is the difference? Both drivers are testing for next year. So it’s OK for Smith to get a head start, but not Jr…?
Do YOU really watch the races, or just “go through the motions”?
The problems for DEI have existed for several years . Dale Jr. has put as little time into the team as possible . We’ve all heard over the years from many , many sources , including his father , how Jr. likes to party and sleep till noon . Can’t build a winning team that way .
Jr. is always complaining on the radio . He berates his crew , engines , other drivers , and nascar constantly . Much of what he says on the radio are simply speechs staged for the fans benefit .But i have several times heard Tony Sr and Tony Jr tell him to shut up and to try driving for a change . Many of his poor finishes are just as much his fault as the mechanical problems . And how bad could it be if you’re complaining about an engine that is in the top five ?
Letting Jr test , and letting Tony Jr and Tony Sr go early is no more than respect . The DEI Dale Jr. saga is over , so they have all decided to let each other work toward the future , because whether they finish 12 th or twentieth in points matters v, but not as much as success for both in the future .
I don’t think it was a smart move to keep Tony Jr and Dale Jr together at Hendrick’s. the pair won’t last long together.
Did you listen to Dale Jr’s scanner Sunday? What more does he have to do??? Give blood!!!
I am not even a Jr fan and I know you are WAY off base here! I listen to the driver’s radios. Different drivers all race long. (They are a hoot! LOL!) Jr has NOT given up. He is trying his heart out to win one for his team. He wants to win a race more than anything this year! Just listening to him on the radio I can tell this!! Just how down and depressed he sounds when he has problems, shows how much he wants to win! It is DEI who has given up on Jr!! Not the other way around. Try listening to Jr on the radio or in an interview after another problem run. You will see it too!
I don’t know about DEI, but I really have to believe that Junior IS trying to win a race. He has been racing way too hard lately to say otherwise. And I’m not really a fan of his either.
As far as the testing goes, so what?! DEI wants to get Regan seat time so why shouldn’t the others play switcheroo as well. It only makes sense.
Well, I guess all you need to do these days is write negative article about races you don’t watch, scanners you don’t listen to. Just piss on whichever driver you don’t like. What happened were you not popular in high school. All this article does since it is not writing about the facts and it’s about opinion is casting a light on you and your intention. I don’t think Jr has given up. If they are going to use him as a R&D product he is going to bring the problem to light and maybe get a win out of all this. He won’t give up.
You need to take a look at how Jr. and his team have done everything possible to win since the chase has started. I have had it up to my eyeballs with writers who dont have a clue about what they write about. Next time do your homework dude.
Its pretty obvious Dale Jr has become the test mule for DEI and Childress engine shop. And why not, he can push equipment to the limits as well as anyone. The organizations had nothing to lose as Dale Jr is gone at the end of the season. Its a shame he’s been prevented from winning but he’s been a trooper week in and week out doing his best to run as hard as he can. DEI apparently still has a great deal of work to do and next year they’ll run mediocre at best and Dale Jr will rebound to run for a championship.
Seems to me that the “Jr.nation” is so committed to Jr. that in their eyes he can do nothing wrong while readly blaming DEI & Teresa for all things bad. I think the whole thing’s a shame, all that Dale sr. worked so hard to create, seems to be going the opposite direction he had envisioned.All the Jr. fans think he should have gained control of DEI, well if Dale had wanted that he probably would have stated it in his will,he didn’t he left it all to Teresa so get over it. Jr.& Kelly probably couldn’t have run it anyway.Jr. Motorsports isnt really running away with the Busch Series Championship either, now he wants to team with Hendrick to try to have a winning team there,or a cheating team.If Jr. would start living his own life instead of letting his sister run it he might be bettter off.
You must be watching different races than me. Dale Jr is working his butt off to try and win races in the final 10 and it appears that he may not be receiving the best equipment to do that. He ran in the top 10 for most of the day on seven cylinders while the rest had 8. That just does not sound like someone who is going through the motions. I think DEI may be testing new equipment with Dale Jr. As for the testing, this test is for 2008 and not for 2007, why shouldn’t Dale Jr test with the team he is going to racing with in 2008? It doesn’t make any sense to me for him to test with DEI for 2008, when he will not be working for them in 2008. You need to do more research before you write something. It sounds like you don’t like Dale Jr and like to run him down along with DEI any chance you get. You need to grow up or write about other drivers.
You could not be more wrong in your article. Jr. gives it his all every week. If DEI had done the same maybe things would be different. Of course she (step momma) is thinking if we make this bad enough for him maybe he will leave early also. Jr. would never do that. She is the one making the whole organization look BAD. In one year she has turned what Dale Sr. spent his life working for, into a farce. All of Sr,‘s people are leaving and so is his son, she must be really proud, she can now call it all her own.
The writer got exactly what he wanted, lots of heated responses to an ignorant article. Anyone who follows racing even as a passing interest could see through this garbage.
What is your problem. Jr is 110% committed to finishing his season. He has raced his butt off each and every race, if did not care, he would not show up.
Many of Jrs interviews this year he seemed distrcted and yes sometimes close to tears. Its a damn shame that he will no longer share the company his father built. Give him a high five for sticking it out this long.
Very perspective. I totally agree with your critique of this article and motivation of the author. .
Do you even watch the races? If you did there is no way you could say that Junior is going through the motions. When you lose six engines or so and your teammates loses virtually none tells you something about the equipment he is getting. I do think Teresa is partly responsible for that also if not she would ensure he was getting good engines like the other drivers. I don’t think she wants junior to be successful because that would make her look bad for not retaining him. But to say junior is not giving his all is just absolutely wrong! I’m sure he keeps hearing the reports about how many races it’s been since he’s won. You don’t think he wants to get that monkey off his back!
Great article Tom, I wholeheartedly agree. Don’t listen to the Jr fans. They’d throw the Pope under the bus for saying that Dale Jr’s car has a scratched hubcap.
BTW, what has 32 teeth and an IQ of 78? That’s right! The front row at a Dale Jr fan club meeting.
Hope you think that’s very perspective too Vegas88fan!
The number 88 will always be remembered as the Robert Yates car and the great drivers who had a ride in it . It doesn’t have much to do with Earnhardt .
You are mis-informed Tommy! I’ve closely watched Dale Jr this year and am now conviced he is a driver’s driver and will be a force to be reckoned with in good equipment. Kudos to the 8 team’s accomplishments this season with less than acceptable hardware. These guys rock!
Try another sport Dude…..you obviosly don’t get racing.
Give the driver a car that runs well, an engine that will hold out the entire race, and see what Jr will do. You have just shown us how little you know about Jr. You did hit the nail on the head about DEI though. Don’t compare Dale Jr’s integrity and loyalty to that of DEI. There’s no comparison. and Awww Carmichael, a skunk always show up at a picnic. You’re it, hon!
Wow, Mr Thompson, you should definitely receive a nice thank-you note from Teresa Earnhardt and John Menard this week!!! Great job at attempting to make the late season performance issues at least partly Junior’s fault. Guess what? No one bought DEI’s story that it was Junior’s fault for his engine blowing that time, and no one is gonna buy this bag of hooey either.
Get real!! It’s obvious DEI “punishes” people by making sure they can’t succeed. They did it to Mikey when he decided to throw in the towel, they did it to Robbie Gordon when he announced he was switching to Ford, and now they’ve done it to Junior. My question is, how long is NASCAR going to continue to allow this to go on??? Oh that’s right….Teresa and her boy-toy John Menard probably have Brian France in their pocket too!! Gee, wouldn’t Dale Sr just be sooooo proud of all of this……
Jr. ran Mikey away not DEI.He couldn’t handle him winning the Daytona races!
Wow, one little article criticising Jr, and Jr Nation comes unglued. I still think Jr is over-rated. We’ll see next year if is as good as you all think. He’ll have championship caliber equipment at his disposal. So for all of you crying about someone’s opinion on your beloved driver, get over it. That’s his job.
read your article and was totally disgusted.there is a saying, if you can’t say anything good about someone then don’t say anything at all. jr. has done everything possible to win a race but when you have 7 engine failures in one season there is a problem somewhere and it is not with the driver.COULD IT POSSABLY BE THE COMPANY THAT YOU ARE WORKING FOR????????
The engine problems , which only account for seven races , don’t excuse the lack of performance on the part of Dale Jr. in all the other races this year . Or for that matter over the last five years . Where are the race wins ? Where are the championships . Are we to believe that there has been a conspiracy against poor Dale Jr. for the whole time he has driven for DEI .
I suspect that the problem is more his lack of enthusiasm for racing than a conspiracy by anyone .
The simple fact is Jr is a very good driver, but he isn’t a GREAT driver. I don’t think I am insulting him to say he is one who would consistantly finish 6th thru 15th every week. I do believe he tries to win, but fact is he is not as great a driver as Gordon,Johnson,Stewart, Kenseth,and now throw Kyle Busch and Hamlin in the mix. I can go on about the difficulties he has but either you agree or don’t agree and we’ll see where he finishes.
I cannot speak for the DEI mechanics and engine builders, but you CANNOT question the driver or crew of the #8. Taking Martinsville for example, when Jr ran into mechanical problems, the crew made adjustments and got him track position countless times on Sunday. As far as the driver, you only need to listen to the audio of the OTHER DRIVERS Jr pissed off on Sunday to see exactly HOW HARD he is really trying. He even got is friends mad at him!
Like I said you all are blinded by Jr. nation, & you are all wrong about me too. I was (still am)a Dale Earnhardt fan, & am a Jr. fan also. You guys are probably race fans that have never been close to a race car except one of the show cars. I’m a driver & have driven everything from go-carts to sprint cars to drag cars, & late models. I never said he wasnt trying but trying to say that DEI is singling him out is ludricrous.I guess you havent noticed the blown engines in Truex’s car or the engine problems with Childress engines. Incase you didn’t know Childress & DEI have teamed up on the engine program.Try to accept reality, there’s no consperacy from DEI against Jr.If you had seen the interview on DeSpains show the other night you would have heard Jr. say there’s problems in the engine dept. but it’s not aimed at him.And Jane talk about a bunch of hooey, DEI punishes people by not letting them win they did it to Mikey. First the statement that DEI punishes drivers is one of the most asinine things I’ve ever heard,second Mikey is one of the most overrated drivers in NASCAR, the only way he won 2 Daytona’s was with help from an Earnhart, the first whan Dale was killed blocking for him, if Dale had been driving his normal win at all cost’s type of race he might still be with us. The second win was with Jr. pushing him across the line.Or maybe under caution.
If Jr was a better driver he would not blow this engines up .As for Steve Hmiel all he is enterrested in is his crack head son.
It is a mythe that Dale Sr. started DEI for JR. He knew that JR. could never make a success out of DEI. That is why he left it to Theresa, not JR. Forget Jr. and his future at Hendricks. They will soon figure out they have been DUPED. JR. is not the driver they hoped for. Get a life, Jeff is the future for Hendrick Motors!
If Jr was a better driver he would not blow this engines up .As for Steve Hmiel all he is enterrested in is his crack head son.
that is the best one….a good driver doesnt blow engines..if you think the engine is the drivers responsibility you need to watch golf.
What races are you watching? Do you really have a clue as to what you are writing?
Junior may not be his daddy but he is a pretty good driver. He has won two busch championships and 17 Nextel Races. A lot of drivers racing today in Nascar don’t have that record. Didn’t Kurt Busch win the Championship and he doesn’t have 17 nextel cup victories. For anyone whether you are a fan of his or not to say he is not much of a driver needs to check the win/loss records of drivers in Nascar. And, if he had been in Hendrick Cars no telling how many wins and maybe even a championship he would have had. DEI is definitely not as good as team as Hendrick, Gibbs, or even RCR at this time. Junior may not win a championship next year with Hendrick but I would almost guarantee you he will win a race. Seventeen Nextel Cup wins proves that he can win these races and is a legitimate driver. If you don’t know anything about NASCAR you need to quit posting stupid comments that you obviously don’t know anything about.
[quote: Larry Burton]
Didnâ€™t Kurt Busch win the Championship and he doesnâ€™t have 17 nextel cup victories.
Actually, Kurt has exactly 17 Nextel Cup victories. He also has a higher winning percentage than Dale, having run 35 less races, nearly a full season worth. On pure wins, Dale’s not even in the top 10 as far as active drivers, although with the announced retirements he may just crack it assuming Terry Labonte or Bill Elliott don’t run any races.
Also, it’s worth noting that regardless of your stance on this or any topic, it’s unwise to suggest someone else’s knowledge is lacking when you haven’t properly fact-checked your own post. High horses only make for long falls.
Steven, Did Kurt have seventeen victories when he won the championship? You say he has exactly seventeen victories but he has won more races since he won the championship so he wouldn’t have seventeen then would he? I’m not trying to be on a high horse but it kind of irks me that a lot of fans say he can’t drive. As i’ve said, DEI is not one of the top Nascar Teams now either so if he had been driving for Hendrick you can be assured he would probably have more wins. Don’t think Rick Hendrick is a dummy when it comes to chosing drivers either. He knows if some talent is there are not. He wouldn’t just sign Jr. for his name alone. Just because your name is Earnhardt doesn’t mean they are gonna give you two Busch Championships and seventeen Nextel wins. Like I said, he may not be his father are Jeff Gordon but he can definitely drive a race car. When Kurt was driving for Rousch I would rate them ahead of DEI as for as a raceteam. The quality of a race team has a lot to do with winning races. I think that’s a major reason why Junior left DEI. Time will tell if it’s the right move but I definitely think it is. Also, Junior was running real strong in several races this year until engine failures took him out of contention. For the most part, he has no control over engine failures. Can you name me another driver this year who has had seven engine failures? That’s probably got something to do with him not winning a race this year so far.
Are you watching the same races as the rest of us? It is truly painful to watch Jr try so hard, each week, and then have another one of those crappy RCR/DEI combo engines blow up..Hell, I am almost ready to cry..DEI couldn’t care less..they are planning for 2008, meanwhile, Jr is asking for any old engine that will run, so he won’t blow up again next week. Please be fair and see the whole picture for what it is..
I have to say this because it’s true. The Organization DEI has given up on JR. No matter what anyone says. He’s currently a one man show. one man every week driving 500 miles. Aint easy with a buch of guys that don’t care standing in the pits and watching from the stands. one look at jrs face during the hendrick testing at Atl and you can see he’s hungry.