- Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 April 2009 21:42
- Published on Wednesday, 08 April 2009 21:42
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It was the spring of 2000 and a career was blossoming. Dale Earnhardt Jr., a Sprint Cup Series rookie fresh off winning consecutive Busch Series titles, came to Texas Motor Speedway. Making only his 12th start in NASCAR’s top series, Earnhardt went to victory lane, where he was joined by his father, the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. for a memorable celebration.
Earnhardt Jr. went on to win twice more in 2000, at the Richmond spring race and incredibly in the All Star race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, becoming the first rookie to do so.
Junior was almost immediately considered a “champion in waiting”. Nine years later, the waiting continues, with Earnhardt’s early season struggles attracting increased focus on his team in his second season with the Hendrick Motorsport organization.
Criticism has surfaced this season from both media and at least one rival in the series, Kyle Busch, who lost his seat at Hendrick Motorsports when they signed Dale Jr. away from Dale Earnhardt Inc.
None other than Rick Hendrick himself defended the No. 88 team last week saying, “I am 100% behind this group. I have no intention of making any changes. I have all intentions of making it better.”
Said Earnhardt, “We’re just trying to hear out everybody’s opinions on some things we can try or do differently, and if it will help. We’re just working hard to get better. We don’t sit on our tails hoping it’ll turn around on its own because it probably won’t happen that way.”
Hard work paid dividends at Martinsville where Junior finished an encouraging eighth, his best finish of the season. He came into last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway in 16th place in the points standings. "We have excellent equipment,” Earnhardt said. ”We just have to know what to do with it. We got to get a little bit better as a team to compete. The stuff is right there in front of us, but man we just gotta figure out what to do to make it work.”
In more Earnhardt news: Kerry and Jeffrey Earnhardt have joined Rick Ware racing in the Nationwide series. Kerry was to make his debut with the organization last Saturday in the O’Reilly 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, but failed to qualify. His son, 19 year-old Jeffrey, Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s grandson, is scheduled to make his nationwide debut at Dover International Speedway May 30.
Jeffrey has experience in the Camping World Series East where he was fifth in the standings as a rookie in 2007 and finished 15th in the rankings last year. Both father and son will be paired with former NASCAR champion crew chief Paul Andrews until they do battle together at Atlanta Motor Speedway this fall. At that time Clyde McCloud will serve as crew chief for Jeffrey Earnhardt.
Jeffrey will race a progressive schedule this year, running in seven events from a one mile track, to a two mile oval as he prepares for the 2010 season and a campaign for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. He will also compete in the Nationwide series event at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
And finally, in spite of their merger with Ganassi Racing the situation continues to deteriorate for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Fox Sports is reporting that Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is about to shut down the No. 8 team unless they can come up with a sponsor pronto. If that happens, in addition to Aric Almarola losing his ride, three contracts are affected: Martin Truex Jr., Bass Pro Shops, and Chevrolet.
Truex’s contract states that he must have two teammates or he can leave. Bass Pro Shops has a performance clause and with Truex 28th in owner’s points, the No. 1 team is in a very shaky position. In addition to all the uncertainty over the government bailout of the auto industry, Chevrolet can alter its support of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing if three teams are not in operation.
Speculation has Truex going to Joe Gibbs Racing, either to replace struggling rookie Joey Logano on the Cup circuit, or to run a fourth JGR car with sponsorship from Farm Bureau. As for Bass Pro Shops, Fox Sports speculated that if Truex Leaves Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, they will move their sponsorship to Ryan Newman’s car at Stewart-Haas Racing. Bass Pro Shops already sponsors Tony Stewart Racings sprint cars on the USAC and World of Outlaw circuits.