HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

June 18, 2007

Earnhardt move is good for all but fans

By Jesse Menden

If you were around the NASCAR garages Wednesday, I bet you could hear the sighs of frustration from every car owner, except for those at Hendrick Motorsports.

The Hendrick stable added another bullet to its already loaded arsenal when it was announced that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join their team in 2008.

Earnhardt will join the likes of superstar drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson under Hendrick. Between those two drivers, they have won eight of the 14 races through Pocono. Overall, Hendrick cars have won 10 races so far this season.

Another one of those races was won by up-and-comer Casey Mears, who won his first Cup race June 3 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

It almost seems unfair to the other teams and owners for HMS to get a driver of Earnhardt’s caliber.

But, ever since 2004 when Junior won six races, he has struggled. He as won just two races since, including none this season. If the season was to end after Pocono, he would miss the Chase for the Cup. The move to Hendrick is exactly what Earnhardt needs to get his career as racer going again.

By moving to Roger Hendrick’s team, Junior will no longer be the most popular driver because he is his daddy’s son.

Earnhardt, now along with Johnson and Gordon, should absolutely dominate the competition in the ‘08 season. Junior will start winning races like he did in ‘04.

By putting a good driver (Earnhardt) in the best equipment any NASCAR team has to offer, other owners may as well just aim for top 10 finishes rather than wins.

On the owner side, Roger Hendrick could not have signed a better driver. He gets the most popular one on the circuit, and one of the most talented.

And by signing Earnhardt, it is an excuse to get rid of a problem driver in Kyle Busch. The 22-year old has won a race this season (the Food City 500 at Bristol) but has not done enough with what Hendrick has given him. He has already taken himself out of a couple of races by beating up his car.

Hendrick’s team is now going from great to greater.

And just like in the cartoons, you will be able to see the dollar signs in the eyes of Hendrick when sponsorship and licensing money start overwhelming his checking account this winter.

While it is a win-win situation for both driver and owner, it leaves a lot of Dale Jr. fans in a bit of a quandary.

Most Earnhardt fans despise Gordon. Now their favorite driver will be swapping secrets with them, and possibly working together on the track.

Remember, after the Phoenix 500, and then again after the Aaron’s 499 at Talledega, the Earnhardt faithful tossed beer bottles and whatever they could after Gordon won those races to tie at pass Earnhardt Sr. in career wins.

I imagine it will take a little time to get used to seeing Junior with Gordon in the garage, or them willingly in the same photos.

It will be interesting to see how NASCAR fans react to the move by Earnhardt. On one hand, he will have a better shot at winning races. The flip side is he might have to work with Gordon and get along with him more than fans would like.

There is another negative for fans. NASCAR is starting to resemble baseball in terms of competition. Suddenly, the Hendrick team is like the New York Yankees, with the rest of the teams struggling to put up the funds necessary to compete with them.

NASCAR won’t be nearly as exciting if Gordon, Johnson, and Earnhardt are at the top of every race. Hopefully, the rest of the teams will be able to catch up with the supposedly cheaper and fair Car of Tomorrow when it runs full-time in ‘08.

Either way, the move by Earnhardt is another win for NASCAR. It should make for more good television and high ratings for NASCAR.