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Dale Earnhardt Jr.? What's the deal here? What's the solution? After Richmond, Rick Hendrick clearly has to do something


Mr. Popularity, yes! But where are the wins? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Okay, all fun and games aside, it's time to talk seriously about Dale Earnhardt Jr.
   His performance at Richmond last weekend was, well, downright terrible. No excuses.
   What's wrong here?
   It doesn't look like it can be the equipment, since teammates Jeff Gordon (atop the standings), Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin have all won already.
   Is it focus? Is Earnhardt focused?
   Why is Earnhardt making so many mental mistakes?
   Why is Earnhardt giving up so many spots on pit road?
   What's wrong here?
   Has Junior simply given up?
   Are NASCAR officials simply giving up on Junior?
   What is the dynamic here?
   What does Junior Nation, if it's still out there somewhere, think about this?
   Look at it this way: Dale Jr. is right now the fourth-best driver on Rick Hendrick's official four-team roster. Even Martin, at 50, is winning, and running strong.
   And then look at it this way: considering how well Hendrick's new Tony Stewart/Ryan Newman satellite operation is running – and either Newman or Stewart could easily have won Richmond – then Dale Earnhardt Jr. is only the sixth-best driver on the Hendrick roster.
   It's time for Hendrick to make a move.
   It's time for Earnhardt to make some hard decisions.
   It's time for crew chief Tony Eury Jr. to step to the plate and make some hard calls too.
   Earnhardt, a couple of weeks ago, asked if anyone had video of his late father's breakthrough NASCAR tour victory at Bristol in 1979.
   The initial response was no response, presumably because no TV group was then broadcasting the races (except for CBS' four-per-year package).
   However now it appears that NASCAR itself – or rather its Motor Racing Network subsidiary – may well have that historic video footage in its own vaults, somewhere hidden in some box. MRN back then was reportedly taping races in order to provide year-end highlights packages. Just where that video might be is unclear. There may even be a copy of that legendary video in the R. J. Reynolds' basement.
   But that's history to study…and Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs to be hitting the books about the present.
   Maybe Jr. and Jr. are just too much like brothers.
   Maybe Earnhardt needs a race track boss with a harder edge, someone who can crack the whip. But who might that be?
   A Ray Evernham type, perhaps (though don't expect Evernham to make a comeback to the pit box for this).
   Then again who might even want the job as Earnhardt's crew chief. Remember that ill-fated 2005 season, when Junior went through three crew chiefs?
   Consider this: Kyle Busch just turned 24 Saturday night (and won Richmond going away); Earnhardt turns 35 in October…and since Earnhardt last year got the Hendrick ride that Busch once had, Busch has outscored Earnhardt 11-to-1 in victories.
   Earnhardt, after Saturday's woeful 27th place finish at Richmond, sits 18th in the standings.
   Still, Earnhardt is one of the most popular drivers in this sport, and if he's not winning, or at least contending, then the sport suffers.
   Fox TV's 5.0 Talladega 500 rating last week (down from 2008's 5.7 and 2006's 5.4) and its Richmond ratings (3.7 overnight, probably going up to 4.0 when the full U.S. is included) were both down from the last few years….and those were the two best NASCAR races of the season.
   The question now – and Fox' sport boss David Hill is asking it directly – is what's going on here? If the product on the track is good – and Talladega and Richmond had great racing from start to finish – then why are ratings still down?
   Is it because Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't in the mix?
   Is it because NASCAR-on-TV got off to such a slow disappointing start, that it will take a while to catch back up?
   Is it because NASCAR just isn't 'in' anymore?
   Is it because TV itself just isn't 'in' anymore, because people have other things to do?
   Whatever, Dale Jr.'s sales appeal is still there – California's Auto Club Speedway is now promoting its new Oct. 11th Cup chase event with an $88 Dale Jr. 'Birthday Weekend Package.'
   The Dale Jr. California package, marketed as a $150 value, includes just about everything….but will Junior even make it into this year's chase?

Maybe it's time for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to shave the beard and change his luck (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


If David Hill wants to know

If David Hill wants to know why ratings are down, maybe he should look more to how his network televises the races, rather than add yet another burden to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Covering the actual race has become secondary to cartoon characters, promoting a limited amount of drivers, and virtually ignoring 2/3 of the cars in the field. Overuse of in car camera shots gives no perspective of what is happening on track. Pit stops, as important as they are with on track passes an endangered species, are covered in small boxes that again rob the viewer of perspective. It's useless to have a stop watch on a pit stop, since few of them are actually shown from start to finish. Several minutes of showing the car in the lead running well ahead of the pack isn't exactly compelling. No full field rundowns leave many fans wondering if their favorite driver is even still running, since updates on cars on or off the track are seldom given. Laying the burden on Jr. seems a real cop out to me.

One thing to like about the

One thing to like about the COT is that it seems to put the racing back in the driver's hands, instead of it being more about the equipment. The cream seems to be rising to the top, and the Junior is heading towards the bottom of the barrel. It was all Teresa's fault when he quit running well at DEI his last season there, and now his fans blame the crew and crew chief. No way it could be the driver. For all Hendrick's critical acclaim, he made what may be the dumbest move ever made by a Cup owner in trading Junior for Busch. Let's just hope NASCAR does not expand the Chase to 20 teams this time for him to make it in.

Whats the deal you ask? The

Whats the deal you ask? The media has been drinking the Junior Kool-Aid for 10 years and the JR Nation thought he was the reincarnation of his father.

I believe ratings are down

I believe ratings are down because the way Fox is airing Nascar. I cant stand the whole Digger thing. anyone who likes that or buys that merchandise has something wrong w/em. It's just retarded. The way they focus on certain drivers and show the noninteresting features of the race. The way NASCAR started the race @ Richmond under yellow is not a race. I use to prefer Fox's telecast over NBC's but not anymore. Everyone seems to forget that JR was in the top three in point for the longest time last year. That he could have won @ least four races but Eury Jr screwed that up for him. Jr this year, I have no idea what to say but this is getting old. Either he needs to just go insane and race for his life or just call it quits. I been a big fan of Jrs for over ten years now and been waitng for him to shut everyone up. i have to say that Im sick of rooting for a guy that doesnt seem to care about winning.

I'm done watching Nascar

I'm done watching Nascar until there is a change on the 88 team. Either Dale Jr. or Eury needs to go....

There are several old sayings

There are several old sayings that apply here: "You reap what you sow" comes to mind; "live by the sword; die by the sword" is another. In fact, both of these thoughts came to my mind back in Feb. 2001. They come back to me now because, as one of the earlier responders mentioned, "the media has been drinking the Junior Kool-Aid for 10 years".
NASCAR's version of stock car racing has evolved from it's roots as an actual "stock car racing series" into a multi media marketing circus. Any of us who appreciated the racing aspects of the sport have been overwhelmed and driven off into a corner by the boorish multitudes of driver groupies who constantly complain that they are not being served. This is a group who, for the most part, grew up on video games that have become the norm for providing "action" and holding their attention. If there is not constant live or die drama going on, these folks get bored. As a result, NASCAR makes knee-jerk changes to keep these airheads focused on their product. Over time, these changes have ruined what many of us liked about stock car racing. For the past 10 years, NASCAR, the media and the advertisers have used Junior as their marketing platform because he had a built in advantage in his name. They have ridden that horse to the point we find the sport today. If you disagree with this perspective, just look at current marketing campaigns: Every track promoting upcoming events has Junior somewhere prominently featured in the add. Every third TV commercial has Junior in it. TV coverage of the race always keeps up with where he's running regardless of where he's running. All the media coverage starting with the Monday after an event is on how well might Junior do in the next race while asking why he didn't do well in the last event. He is the most popular driver because he is marketed to a uninformed fan base as the "face of NASCAR".
The TV coverage is aimed at fans with the least amount of racing knowledge. Using gimmicks like Digger appeal to the casual viewer so, really, it's a good tool to use to get people who are not race fans to watch. Trouble is, that kind of stuff really ticks off hard core, informed race fans. My suggestion is that if you want to see if you like racing, go to a local track and watch the program. There is no middle ground here. You will either love it or hate it. If you hate it, try going to a baseball game. If you love it, keep going and keep learning. If you only like going to NASCAR Cup races, chances are you are really a driver groupie. If your only exposure to any racing is seeing it on TV, you have little idea of what racing is about. Your voice in demanding changes to anything should be ignored.
I would like to see NASCAR races go to strictly pay-per-view. You will quickly see how many real fans NASCAR has. Once that is revealed, the sport can go back to being what it is supposed to be. If they want to begin growing it again, maybe they will choose to focus on the racing and not on an individual personality.

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Eury jr needs to go and so

Eury jr needs to go and so does cot.

Watching COT races is like

Watching COT races is like watching taxicabs whizzing up and down Broadway in New york City. It just plain sucks. The thought that Jr might actually win a race this season is the only thing that keeps me watching the first two laps and the last two laps of each race.

Old school

jr sucks im getting tired of

jr sucks im getting tired of watching him every week it remind me of kyle petty or even worse he needs a change

this dale jr project hendrick

this dale jr project hendrick has going simply isnt working, and i see once again RH 'vows' to make it work. heck, that's the same old story he throws out about once a year. the bottom line is Jr. needs to get out on his own, and be his own man. But he's too much a cash-cow for Hendrick Motorsports....when even Jeff Gordon for goodness sake can't even sign a sponsor.

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