Sunday, April 5, 2009

Once Again, Finish For Earnhardt Is The Pits

By Dan Beaver
The Sports Xchange

There is an old saying that races are won and lost in the pits.

The No. 88 team is doing its best to modify that saying to become simply, "Races are lost in the pits."

With criticism already at an all-time high about the dysfunctional communication between driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Tony Eury Jr., Sunday's Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was yet another comedy of errors in both the pits and on the track. And that is an all too familiar pattern this season.

After fumbling another pit stop this week and later slapping the wall, Earnhardt finished one lap off the pace in 20th place and remains 16th in the standings -- 67 points outside the coveted top 12. Meanwhile, teammate Jeff Gordon beat second-place Jimmie Johnson to the line, and the fourth Hendrick Motorsports driver, Mark Martin, finished sixth.

In his second full season with Hendrick Motorsports -- and after a lifetime of working and living with his cousin Eury -- Earnhardt and his No. 88 Chevrolet should be running like a well-oiled machine. Instead, they are running like a machine that has a serious oil leak.

About one-fourth of the way through the season-opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt accidentally drove past his pit stall when everyone else stopped for service. Forced to pit again, he started at the tail end of the lead lap and was lucky to avoid catastrophe in heavy traffic.

But he and the team were not done making mistakes. Later in that same race, he was penalized for pitting outside his pit box. When the team did not heed NASCAR's warning to stop working on the car, he was penalized a lap.

Desperate to get back on the lead lap, he ran into the back of Brian Vickers, who also was one lap down and was blocking Earnhardt to maintain his position, on the ensuing restart and turned him sideways in front of the entire field. That triggered a multi-car crash that ended the hopes of nine drivers, including his own teammate Johnson.

Two weeks later at Las Vegas, Earnhardt was penalized for entering pit road too fast, dropping him nearly two laps down, something that is nearly impossible to make up even if a race is 500 miles long.

Sunday, the ongoing comedy of errors of Earnhardt and his team just got funnier -- or sadder, if you're a suffering member of the Earnhardt Nation.

With a little more than 100 laps to go, Earnhardt entered the pits in 14th place, expecting a quick stop. Instead, the front-tire changer inadvertently left a lug nut off the left-front wheel. NASCAR ordered Earnhardt to circle around the 1.5-mile TMS track and return to fix the problem.

As Earnhardt came back onto pit road, his team let the pit board -- which helps him see where to stop -- drag on the ground. The result: Earnhardt missed his stall, bringing about a third go-round, placing him at the tail end of the lead lap.

As embarrassing as it was, Earnhardt tried to downplay the incident afterward.

"That wasn't nothing," he said. "We were already last in line on the lead lap. We came down pit road and all the lapped cars were in their stalls, and we didn't want to get t-boned by one of them. I didn't get it in the stall, so we just went around and came back in. That time pit road was empty."

As Daytona and Las Vegas already showed, the problem is pandemic. Missing the pits this one time might not have cost them track position, but the pattern of mistakes is difficult to overcome.

Two cautions later, the pit crew redeemed itself by taking two tires only, and that got Earnhardt out in the lead for just the second time this season (he came into the race having led just one lap in the first six races).

But even that was the wrong move.

When the race restarted on lap 259, Kyle Busch, who was one lap down at that point, dove into the center of a three-wide snarl. He got loose, chased his car up the track and forced Earnhardt to jam on the brakes and get out of the groove, out of the lead and promptly back to seventh place, from where things would only get worse than they had been all day.

Thirty laps later, flirting with the high line and battling Greg Biffle, Earnhardt's car slapped the wall, once again forcing him into the pits and effectively ending any chance of a comeback.

"Nothing was really wrong with the car after we hit the wall," Earnhardt said. "It was frustrating at the time, but I was running real, real hard all day. Trying to run hard and run well, we just got into the wall."

Next week is an off week for NASCAR, and Earnhardt's plans are typical of the young driver. "I'm going to raise a little hell," he said, "and I'm going to go to Whiskey River (the popular nightclub he owns in downtown Charlotte, N.C.) and I'm going to go on vacation during Easter and take it easy, man."

Perhaps a better idea would be for the team to work on its pit stops while Earnhardt works on his driving, don't you think?


  1. No, that is not a better idea. The best idea is for Dale, Jr. to play a little and have a little vacation before he gets back to work.

    KyBu, in his inimitable and fantasticly great car control had to have run into Dale, Jr. on purpose. Because we all know his car control is perfect. That's his media fans keep telling us anyway.

  2. Sounds like a plan Jr.!!! While you go and party for a week, Junior Nation will come up with plenty of excuses to cover your mistakes.

  3. Hopefully the entire 88 team will go home and watch replays of all the races so far this year and see that they are looking like buffoons...and turn it around at Phoenix!

  4. Some people are drivers,some people are racers,some people are race car drivers.I'm not real sure where Jr.fits in all this.

  5. 100% right Jerry. Of course it's a better idea, if you want to improve yourself and your team. But Jr is not obviously not interested in improving himself or in winning races or championhips. If he was, he would not be partying for a couple weeks, he would be at the shop doing what he should be doing.
    As for Kyle, he did nothing wrong at all. He got loose. "That's racing"

  6. I am very disappointed with Dale Jr., I thought at least he would take this off time thinking how can he and his team improve their skills for the rest of the season. Is he really into racing at all?

  7. To Johanna - Kyle did do something wrong. He used poor judgement at a restart, with speedy dry on the track, and took off with the usual disregard for the safety of others. As usual another temper trantrum. Seeing that he is idolized by the media I guess he thinks he is King of the Road. As for Jr. the best thing he could do is stay away from the media. They blow everything he says and does out of porportion.

  8. I think Jr's interest in being a great race car driver is clear. He's not interested and will settle for average. He'd rather be in front of a camera instead of behind the wheel. And Jr. Nation can take a rest, your guy is average at best and will never come close to winning a Championship. Party Jr, kill some more brain cells, your running short of them by the way. DEI made a good decision not to sell a controlling share to Jr. Party Hardy Jr.

  9. Sad as it is Jr. is never going to be able to fill his Daddys shoes. I like Jr. but really think if it wasn't for his last name he would have never gotten as far as he has in NASCAR

  10. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but when the driver is on pit road, isn't the crew chief counting him down as he approaches his pit stall? I know on a few occasions when there's been a cut in on a driver's headset, you hear him being counted down "5... 4... 3... 2... 1!" as he approaches his pit stall. If this is the case, then how can Jr. possibly blow past his stall? Is he zoning out? Does he lose his focus when he comes in for a pit stop?

  11. Maybe that's what the chief is supposed to do, but I noticed last year at Richmond and this year at Daytona that Eury didn't do that. Well, you know, Eury just "wanted to do this for a living and have fun" in Junior's own words. Suits me fine- I don't pull for 88 anyway.

  12. Come on Jr., forget a freaking vacation, find out what's wrong with this team, help your cousin, don't freaking disappoint Rick Hendrick any longer, he took a chance on you and so far for all those pundits who challenged the decision, guess what, they're looking like the genius' and well, Rick Hendrick is having to defend his decision, you can win, it's proven, how about forgetting raising a little .... and get serious about honoring the risk that Hendrick took on you, or is it just about the money

  13. "Sad as it is Jr. is never going to be able to fill his Daddys shoes. I like Jr. but really think if it wasn't for his last name he would have never gotten as far as he has in NASCAR"

    Agreed. Legend has it that Sr. could see the airflow off the car in front of him and use it to draft. His kid can't even see where his pit stall is. Pathetic.

  14. for all you folks that hate the 88 so much, why the hell do you continue to read stories about him? is it because you want to regurgitate the same, well-worn line that "if weren't for his last name he'd be a INSERT DEMEANING JOB TITLE"? is it so you can gush about how the guy never takes credit for his mistake despite numerous evidence to the contrary? or is it because you're so freaking petty and miserable that you have nothing better to do than gloat at the misfortunes of a guy who's trying to do right by his friends and family while living under near constant media coverage?

    if you're not a fan of the 88; if you're tired all the news articles about him, do yourself a favor and quit reading the articles.

  15. Junior is an average driver. There a lot of average drivers out there and I don't hate any of them. He is who he is. He has two lower series titles and some Cup wins. Decent career but he'll never be one of the big boys. Nothing wrong with that.

  16. How is pointing out the truth about Jr. "gloating"? The guy has been racing for 11 years. He has 18 career victories. He constantly screws up and has lapses of concentration that are shocking for a driver with his years of driving experience. I mean, blowing past your pit stall? More than once?

    In all honesty, sometimes Jr. fans invite the criticism that their driver receives. They constantly hold the guy up as some sort of superstar driver and get upset when people point out THE TRUTH, which the poster above me summed up perfectly: "He has two lower series titles and some Cup wins. Decent career but he'll never be one of the big boys. Nothing wrong with that."

    On top of that, Jr.'s fanbase jumps on everybody else for Jr.'s failures. When he left DEI, how many times did we hear from the faithful that Teresa Earnhardt was holding him back, that the DEI cars were subpar and cost him victories, that she should have let him become the controlling partner, etc. etc. etc. Now that he's gone from DEI, well the fanbase can't blame THEM anymore, so Tony Eury Jr. is the target now. Right, like HE'S the one out there smacking into a wall, blowing past his pit stall, or getting penalized for stopping his car over the line. Is he the greatest crew chief? No, but he probably doesn't deserve half the criticism he gets from Jr. fans. It takes a TEAM effort to win in NASCAR, yet Jr. fans conveniently ignore that and blame everyone BUT Jr. for his screwups. I'm just waiting for the day when they jump on Rick Hendrick, and start complaining that that he favors Jeff and Jimmie and doesn't do enough for Jr.!

    And as far as "being tired about all the news articles about him", I can't speak for others, but I don't get tired of the news articles about Jr. because they all pretty much point out the same things that non-Jr. fans already know: That while he's constantly voted "Most Popular Driver" his carer numbers are mediocre at best and hugely disappointing at worst; that part of his popularity is due to the Dale Sr. fans that shifted over to Jr. when Sr. passed away; and that, as much as his fans hate to believe it, if not for the fact that his last name is Earnhardt and he commands top dollar through his endorsements and popularity, he'd be out of NASCAR because he's just not that talented as a driver. Of course, that gets met with "aw, you're nothing but a Jr. hater" because, really, what else can you say? How can you refute the numbers? Hell, Jerry gets hate mail from Jr. fans, and he's about as unbiased as they come.

    Just for once I would LOVE for a Jr. fan to explain just WHY Jr. should be considered one of the elite drivers in NASCAR. Because the numbers sure don't back it up.

  17. my question is: do ya'll really hate jr that much or do you just hate the obnoxious fans who think he's the second coming? i can understand hating the fans (because they are annoying as hell) but i don't understand why you'd hate the man.

  18. Personally, I don't hate Jr. I think it really is more an issue with the (over)zealousness of his fans. I'll admit it, I root for Jr. sometimes. But let's face it: in all his career, he hasn't shown anything to prove that he's deserving of the elite status his fans want to bestow on him. Yet Jr. fans will blame everyone and everything for his mediocrity when the answer is plain as day: HE'S JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH. You can blame Teresa Earnhardt, DEI, Tony Eury Jr., his car package, etc. but the truth of the matter is that THE NUMBERS DON'T LIE. And his career numbers show a guy who's been a decent enough driver, but not someone who is ANYWHERE near the superstar his fans make him out to be.

    And if his fans don't believe that after driving for Rick Hendrick for over a year now and the fact that all he has to show for it is one victory (won on fuel management, no less) is not an indictment of the man and his driving skills, then they truly are delusional. If the guy's last name was anything BUT Earnhardt, would they be so quick to jump to his defense?

    I made this point on another post, but it bears repeating: Just because his daddy was a great driver doesn't mean it's his destiny to be as great. For every Ken Griffey Jr. or Prince Fielder, guys who have surpassed their fathers' greatness, you have a Pete Rose Jr. or Dale Berra, guys who get chances based on their last names. AT THIS POINT in his career Jr. falls squarely in the latter category and AT THIS POINT in his career he has shown nothing to indicate that this is going to change. COULD it change? Maybe; he certainly has the resources at his disposal and a team owner who will do everything in his power to help him succeed. WILL it change? I for one would not be surprised if it doesn't, and wouldn't be surprised if Jr. remains a middle-of-the-pack driver, albeit a famous and highly endorsed and paid driver, for the rest of his career. But Jr. fans need to face reality, and it's this: no matter how many popularity awards he wins and how much you make him out to be a great driver, he's just not that good. Period. End of story.

  19. I don't follow Jr.. Never have.. However, I sure don't "hate" JR.. Matter a fact, he is most likely a great guy.. If I were in a bar, I'd enjoy partying with him.. However, we are not in a bar.. We are at the top series at Nascar.. His fans feel he's a second coming of Sr. And, he's not. He's an average driver, with the best equipment available and most likely won't even make the Chase. Again. I think his fans are so "out there" constantly stating his "talent" that they create a negative feed back from non-Jr fans.. But no one "hates".. Thats silly.. It's just a sport.. As far as people saying not to read about him.. That's childish actually, he's still news and people interested in the sport are going to read the headline stories such as this one..

  20. Couldn't have said it better myself.

    Dale Sr.'s death put Jr. into the worst situation possible. Most second generation athletes come into their respective sports when their fathers are long retired or are just about at retirement. In Jr.'s case, not only was his father at or slightly past his prime, his sudden departure left a huge void; after all, I don't think anyone will disagree that Sr. was the most popular driver of his generation.

    It's no surprise that Sr.'s fans gravitated toward and adopted Jr. as their driver. It's only natural. But to place Jr. on the same pedestal as his father was not only a disservice to Jr. but to his fans as well. There's no possible way that Jr. could ever live up to the legacy left by his father.

    He's basically in a no-win situation. If he never wins a Cup, his career will be viewed as a failure. If he wins a Cup, will that be enough? Will his fanbase and detractors be content with one title, or will they hold him up to the standard set by his father and expect him to win multiple Cups? Sr. was arguably the most successful driver of his generation and yet Jr. is not even close to being that, what with Gordon, Johnson and Stewart winning multiple titles while he hasn't even sniffed one.

    In either case, Jr.'s career will most likely never live up to the expectations foisted upon him by his fans.

  21. Correction, Jr. is a third generation athlete, but I think everyone gets the point I was trying to make....

  22. You can't deny that Jr. has the talent by winning 18 races and that has nothing to do with his name. That is far better than average. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the focus or discipline that would make him a great driver. It appears his success will be as a media celebrity as opposed to a great race car driver.

  23. I agree with what many have said here. It is not Jr himself I dislike, it's his hardcore rabid little fans, that cause people to dislike Jr. They are the ones that claim Jr is the greatest, and nothing is ever his fault. I have seen where they are now saying Jr is getting the leftovers at Hendrick! I laughed my head off at that stupid statment. How insane is that! They are out of their minds if they believe that crazy notion. It just makes then look like morons saying it. Anything and everything they can invent as an excuse for why Jr is only running average, they will. That in itself, is enough to make people dislike Jr. His fans are the reason people don't like Jr. Not the man himself. Sadly, the will never understand that.

  24. It is incredible. All avoidable stupidity. It isn't like seeing the incredibly bad luck Mark Martin has had. Just gross incompetence...


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