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What's going wrong over in the Dale Earnhardt Jr. camp? Is it time for a new Rick Hendrick fix?

  Dale Earnhardt Jr. sometimes seems stuck in neutral, just not getting traction (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern

   It's been 10 years now since then-rookie Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the All-Star race.
   That win, in fact, is the only reason Earnhardt is even in this year's All-Star sprint. He hasn't met any of the other qualifications.
   Heck, it's been years since Earnhardt won much of anything big-time, to be honest.
   That dramatic Daytona Shootout win in February 2008, his first season with team owner Rick Hendrick, seems ages ago.
   And his last Sprint Cup tour win, at Michigan in the summer of the '08, was really a gas-mileage win, not a nose-to-nose thriller.
   This is Earnhardt's third season with Hendrick, who vowed this time last year to make sure this thing works.
    Hendrick even ordered Mark Martin's ace crew chief Alan Gustafson to work even closer with Earnhardt and crew chief Lance McGrew...though all that seems to have done so far is slow down Martin's own performance.
   Maybe it's time for Hendrick to go to Plan B.
   Things don't seem to be getting any better for Dale Jr., a year now since team owner shuffled the deck and put McGrew in charge. The chemistry, yes, seems pretty good.
    But as far as any breakthrough, by taking cousin Tony Eury Jr. out of the equation, that's hard to see. Last year at this point Earnhardt was averaging finishes of 18.5; this year he's averaging finishes of 16.6.
   And still no wins...though that charging Daytona finish a few months ago was a tantalizing display of what Earnhardt can do.
   When he arrived at Dover, Del., last weekend at Dover, Earnhardt wasn't in a very good mood. That didn't change much Sunday either, when he finished 30th, 10 laps down.
    Is Earnhardt, now 35, picking up any steam with McGrew?
    He made the championship chase in 2008, finishing 12th. Last season he went winless, didn't make the chase, and finished 25th in the standings. Coming into the All-Star break Earnhardt sits 16th.


   Crew chief Lance McGrew (L) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (C) and car owner Rick Hendrick (R) are all smiles here....but they need some wins (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Of course what makes Earnhardt's performances stand out so sharply is what teammate Jimmie Johnson is doing in the same equipment:
    Over that span, 2008-2010, Johnson has won 17 Cup events and swept both championships.
    Last season, Mark Martin's first with Hendrick, he won five times and came within a hair of the championship, finishing second.
    Third teammate Jeff Gordon, despite a bushel of second-place runs, has only one win during the past 2-1/2 years, at Texas last spring. But he finished seventh in the 2008 chase and third last season – part of 1-2-3 Hendrick playoff sweep.
   At Dover, Earnhardt's pre-race interview was short and to the point:
   What do you think about Dover? "I wish it was asphalt. That is what I think when I think about it."
   Michael Waltrip says Earnhardt, his former teammate, will probably go winless again this year: "We'll see."
   Any 'milestones' so far in his time with McGrew? "No."
   What do you think about the All-Star event? "I don't really like it unless I run good; otherwise it is a waste of time.
   "But if you run good, it is pretty fun."
   Not a very happy camper: "I just get pissed when my stuff isn't good, you know. Hell, it's what you are supposed to do -- you aren't supposed to be happy about it."
   Now, after the Dover disaster, Earnhardt and McGrew are trying to get back on track, as NASCAR gears up for the summer country-criss-cross run: "The All-Star race is a serious race, perhaps as serious as any race in the season," Earnhardt says. "It can be a high-pressure situation, and we put a lot of emphasis into it.
    "A lot of work goes into it...and a lot of cars get tore up.
    "There are a lot of people really upset afterwards, because it's all about winning."
   And maybe a win here Saturday night would cool things.

    Here's Earnhardt's 2010 season scorecard:

    Daytona            started 2nd/finished 2nd            (in 2009, he finished 27th)
    California         started 27th/finished 32             (39th)
    Las Vegas       started 4th/finished 16th             (10th)
    Atlanta              started 1st/finished 15th             (11th)
    Bristol               started 18th/finished 7th             (14th)
    Martinsville      started 8th/finished 15th              (8th)
    Phoenix            started 5th/finished 12th              (31st)
    Texas                started 9th/finished 8th                (20th)
    Talladega         started 7th/finished 13th             (2nd)
    Richmond        started 25th/finished 32nd          (27th)
    Darlington        started 19th/finished 18th            (22nd)
    Dover                 started 27th/finished 30th           (12th)


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  His father is being inducted in NASCAR's newest Hall of Fame this weekend in Charlotte....but Dale Earnhardt Jr. may have to step it up a notch if he wants to make it (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

The only "fix" left is to

The only "fix" left is to replace the driver. That ain't going to happen no matter how bad the results are, so let's leave it alone. Maybe FOX will not break from a good battle for the lead anymore to show us that the #88 is running outside of the top 25.

Where Has There Been A Good Battle For The Lead?

fireball, we haven't yet had a good battle for the lead in a non-plate race this year. FOX won't have any battles to watch in the All-Star Race, so natch they're going to show Junior.

The Dale JR Situation or Where's The Beef

Not really all that long ago in a place we called the Winston Cup Series the son of a great champion came. Working for his father's team as a driver making $500 a week on a handshake deal. This son was JR; he had fire and desire; he needed to make a name for himself and did. JR did not have a contract until after SR passed; he does now. With contracts and endorsements he is pulling big money, and there is no one to answer to that he really cares about. He sure can sell merchandise though!

some thoughts on all that: If

some thoughts on all that: If Sr. were still around, Jr. would be winning races IMHO. Jr. has too many hangers-on, and it's a wonder he can concentrate on the driving. Jr. picked up his game a lot last summer, but things still didnt seem to go that well, and now I almost sense he's not only lost focus but confidence.....What I think Jr. should do for 2011 is move to his own JR Motorsports, and do the Tony Stewart thing.

A Dream or Just A Silly Thought

How do you think this situation would work out? I've thought so many weekends, "Man, it sure would be interesting to see Jr. driving the 48 and Johnson driving the 88 and lets keep the crews just like they are."

That's something we'll never know, obviously. Even so, I would think that all 4 cars in the team would be setup really close to the same. Is that not how it is?

I'm just all confused with Jr. Maybe it's my fault. Once I finally started to like the guy, he started sucking and no, I started liking him the last year he was in the #8 not when he moved over to HMS.

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