Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Saga That is Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Alright, alright. Here we go...

I didn't see the wreck that was started when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brian Vickers got together on the backstretch during the Daytona 500 last week while I was actually at the racetrack. I heard the commotion on my headset and saw the cars after they were towed back to the Sprint Cup Series garage. But not until yesterday afternoon did I actually have time to sit down and review the video of the accident in detail.

And guess what... Dale Earnhardt Jr. is totally responsible for what happened. It took out the dominant car (Kyle Busch) and wrecked several others that had legitimate shots at going to victory lane (i.e. Jamie McMurray.) Of course I'm not gonna say that without watching the tape first. I'm expected to be the Dale Jr. supporter that I am and not question his integrity on the racetrack or his ability as a Sprint Cup Series driver.

Now, let me answer a few questions that have been raised this week on Sirius NASCAR Radio and various other talk shows (i.e. The Locker Room Sports Show on KOOL 102.7)

First, did Junior wreck Vickers? Yes.
Did Vickers block Junior which caused the wreck? Yes.
Was Junior frustrated over dumb things he'd done on pit road ALL WEEKEND? Yes.
Did Junior want to get back on the lead lap? Yes.
Did Junior INTENTIONALLY wreck Vickers in an attempt to get back on the lead lap? I still say the word "intentional" when used to describe an event happening at 190 miles per hour is absolutely absurd.

Now, here's my thing about all of this. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is expected to lead every lap and win every race. Junior Nation expects it and the media criticizes him when he doesn't. And at that point being a lap down, not in position for the lucky dog, and knowing rain was coming, he did what he could to try to live up to those expectations. At Daytona more than any other track, the fans expect him to win the race. He screwed up earlier in the day (on pit road twice) and then he screwed up on the racetrack.

That unrealistic expectation of winning every race needs to be dropped. He's not Dale Earnhardt Sr. He never will be. I've never expected him to be. He doesn't have the raw talent and ability that Dale Sr. had. People ask me why am I a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr. My answer is I've been an Earnhardt fan all my life. But what people don't know is that I followed Junior through the Nationwide Series (formerly Busch Series) in 1997, 1998, and 1999. I bought the AC Delco hats and t-shirts and I celebrated when he won the championships in 98 and 99.

And following Dale Sr.'s death in 2001, I didn't necessarily pick another driver to pull for. I flip-flopped between Junior, and Kevin Harvick, and Bobby Labonte, and hell I even thought about switching to the dark side and pulling for Jeff Gordon. But it wasn't really until late 2002 that I became a Junior fan. And my loyalty to Junior has continued even through the switch to Hendrick Motorsports.

But what Junior did on Sunday was inexcusable. I'll admit it now after reviewing the DVR even though I wouldn't on the Locker Room Monday night, or to anybody else I've talked to since. As an Earnhardt fan, I apologize to everyone whose favorite driver was taken out in the wreck (that's for you Bobby.) I also apologize to everyone for saying so many times over the years that Dale Jr. was capable of winning a Sprint Cup Series championship and being competitive enough to win a bunch of races. At this point in his career, I think that a championship is out the door. I also think my allegiance to him as a fan has begun to dwindle. Overrated is a term that has really begun to sink in with me when talking about his Sprint Cup Series career recently.

If it were any other driver, 2 Nationwide Series championships as a driver and 2 more as an owner, 18 Sprint Cup wins (including the Daytona 500) and driving for the most successful team in the modern era would be a very respectable career. Unfortunately for him, 100 wins and 10 championships wouldn't begin to make the fans happy.

I'm criticized for being a Junior fan, cheering when Jimmie Johnson won his 3rd championship last year, saying Kyle Busch is a good driver, and dipping out when it comes to answering the hard questions about an idiotic move at Daytona. So I ask you this: If I wasn't a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, who should I pull for? Gordon? Johnson? Stewart? Shrubby? I'm not saying I would switch over, but I want some input, remembering that I've been an Earnhardt fan since I started watching racing in the late 80's.

I'll take your suggestions here. I want real reasons and not just some dumb answer for your choice.

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