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Published on August 4th, 2009 | by Michael J Smith


Dale Jr’s Attitude To Blame For Struggles

dalejrAfter Monday’s Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, it became evident to me that Dale Earnhardt Jr is not going to win the Sprint Cup Championship any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that he has the driving talent to win the Cup, but right now, he doesn’t have the maturity or temperament that it takes to win one.

Dale Jr’s struggles this season have been attributed to his rocky relationship with his cousin and former crew chief Tony Eury Jr. The two could not communicate well enough to improve the car on pit stops, and the team would often make adjustments that would make the car worse.

Rick Hendrick realized that this was a situation that was never going to improve, so he split the two up. He hoped that bringing in a new crew chief, someone without a history of working with Dale Jr, would help the driver and crew chief communicate better.

But, I’m not optimistic that communication between driver and crew chief will improve unless Dale Jr changes his attitude and matures.
During the race, Dale Jr came over the radio to complain about everything from the COT’s lack of down force to how much he hates racing at Pocono. He would also frequently complain about the car when Lance McGrew made a change that he didn’t want – at one point he snapped at his spotter, TJ Majors, because he wasn’t happy that McGrew made the change.

This is not the behavior of a championship driver, nor is it the way a championship team conducts itself.
Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus do not interact this way. Granted, they have a much longer history together. But, there comes a point when a driver needs to trust his crew chief enough to let him make adjustments whether or not he agrees with them, and then move on if they don’t work.

Johnson has questioned Knaus on several occasions about an adjustment. Knaus usually tells him they’re trying to keep up with the race track, and Johnson understands and they make the change. If that call backfires, Johnson tells Knaus what the car is doing, and together they work on solutions for the next stop.
Dale Jr did not do this on Monday. Instead, he complained that McGrew made the car worse. He did not offer any suggestions to make the car better at that time. Two stops later, he was still complaining about that call (which I believe was a quarter-round of wedge) instead of telling McGrew what the car was doing.

This is counter-productive. It doesn’t build better communication, it stifles it. Dale Jr needs to learn this, and he needs to learn it soon.

We all know Dale Jr hates racing at Pocono. We also know his thoughts on the COT. But, at some point, you have to realize that these things are not going to change, and that everyone is dealing with the same issues. So what do you do? Deal with it and move on.

I know Dale Jr has to vent his frustration. I get that. I understand. But piling it on becomes too much for anyone to take. I think that’s part of the reason Dale Jr and Tony Jr had problems. Dale Jr would complain and complain, and Tony Jr would tell him to shut up and deal with it. McGrew probably won’t do that, but in some ways, he needs to. Or better yet, Rick Hendrick needs to. Maybe having it come from an authority figure he respects will make him heed the advice.

I think Dale Jr should listen to the communication between Johnson and Knaus or Mark Martin and Alan Gustafson. He should focus more on how Martin and Johnson handle disagreements with their crew chiefs, and how they respond to an ill-handling car.
If Monday is any indication, it’s obvious that hasn’t happened or isn’t happening. At some points in the race, he behaved like an upset little kid, instead of a Sprint Cup driver. But, Sprint Cup drivers are the ones who win championships, not little kids.

Until Dale Jr realizes this, he’ll never win a championship.

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About the Author

Michael J. Smith is a NASCAR enthusiast and blogger. In addition to founding this website, Michael is a journalist with over a decade of experience writing for prestigious media organizations.

13 Responses to Dale Jr’s Attitude To Blame For Struggles

  1. Justin Long says:

    Never thought about it, but I agree. One time Dale Jr was running really well, and he got a bad set of tires. He kept complaining about it, and Hendrick got on the radio and calmed him down by saying that there was nothing they could do about it so he should just “keep digging.”

  2. Lead Lap says:

    I think I remember that incident. I remember thinking that Hendrick should have been more forceful in the way he handle Dale Jr’s complaining. He did a good job of calming him down, I think.
    But, I also think he should have been more of the way I envision Dale Sr being toward’s Jr: “Shut up and drive, son.”

  3. bill says:

    Dale may have an attitude but he no worse than the best who want the best car under them.

  4. Lead Lap says:

    Thanks for the comment, Bill.

    I think Dale Jr’s attitude is due to him wanting to win and run up front every week. And, that I don’t have a problem with.

    The issue is that his attitude/temper prevent him from effectively communicating what the car is doing, which makes it difficult for the crew to make adjustments. Once he gets mad, or the car performs poorly, he gets mad rather than trying to focus on getting it better.

    And, only until he realizes this, will he run up front and win races. That said, he has made strides since I’ve written this posting. But, he’s still not quite there.

  5. Michele says:

    I totally agree with you! This is a great article! I hope that Dale uses the off season to his advantage, and gets his temper fits in check. Hendricks must see potential in him, or he wouldn’t keep him. It may be up to Rick Hendricks himself that gets the point through Dale’s hard head.
    I like Dale, and I like the way he drives, but like you said, his attitude is getting in the way.

  6. GBN says:

    On a lighter note…

    If you’re a fan of Dale Jr., you might like playing around with this site I got in an email.

    You upload a photo of yourself onto the car of the fan you like and watch it in this silly video.

    My kids loved it.

  7. Dale Jr. doesn’t seem to be having fun driving a race car anymore and he hasn’t for the last five or six years. Back then he was just racing and winning. At some point about six years ago it seems he started trying to get serious about his career and since then he’s not winning and he doesn’t appear to be having fun anymore

  8. Richard Petersen says:

    Dale Jr does not have an attitude problem, he handles his tempers very well. I mean yea, he can get out of control a little, but I don’t blame him. I would do the same exact think is my car was the worst car out there and no where near the front like my teammates. Maybe if that team of his gives him a car to compete with, maybe we won’t be talking about this now would we?

  9. Lead Lap says:

    Thanks for the comment, Richard.

    I never said that I blame him for his attitude. If he wasn’t so passionate about winning and performing well, then he wouldn’t get so heated in the car when it isn’t performing up to standards. That said, when he gets mad, he stops communicating, which is far worse than any ill-handling car.

    His teammates run out front because they know how to improve the car. Listen to Gordon, Martin, and Johnson over the radio. While they do sometimes lose their tempers, they never stop telling the crew chief what the car is doing and what they think might fix it. Dale Jr doesn’t do this when he gets upset.

    Since writing this posting, Dale Jr has improved his communication in the car. But he still needs to work on his it if he ever hopes to win a championship.

    I also don’t buy that Hendrick Motorsports is giving him subpar equipment. He’s received extra attention in getting the car prepared for races, but ultimately, how you keep up with the track is what determines how well you perform. At this point, the breakdown in communication results in taking swings at the car with varying degrees of success. A lot of the time, however, those swings miss and Dale Jr doesn’t finish well.

    This isn’t an equipment problem, it’s a driver-crew chief communication problem. The team did improve their communication over the last few races, even though he doesn’t have the finishes to show for it. If they continue on, they’ll be fine and Dale Jr will be a factor next season.

    As always, thanks for your comment and keep on reading.

    Lead Lap

  10. Lead Lap says:

    Thanks for the comment Speedway Guide.

    I’m sorry I missed it until day. It must have slipped through the cracks.

    I don’t think Dale Jr is having fun driving a race car anymore. But, I think that has more to do with struggling than anything else.

    It’s not fun when you’re performing poorly, and it’s less fun when your last name is Earnhardt and you’re the most popular driver with the largest fanbase.

    He has won over the last six years, and he was a contender last season until late in the season, so I’m not entirely sure what change he made six years ago that you’re referring to.

    Still, you’re absolutely right. He’s not having fun anymore, at least during the races.

    I think he’ll thoroughly enjoy the time away during the offseason. He’ll relax, get refreshed and will come back next year looking to make a fresh start. Having some time off, combined with gaining more experience with Lance McGrew during the offseason will help him rebound in 2010. I still don’t think he’s championship material yet, but I think he’ll win a couple of races next season, and will make the Chase.

  11. freakyfast says:

    Nice insight into Earnhardt’s lack of performance. I think up until a few years ago he was getting enough out of life with all of the attention and perks that one gets from just being a celebrity.
    A few years ago I saw a great thing happen. I began to see him want more. No longer was Dale interested in just the stardom. He began wanting to live up to the Earnhardt name, and not just that but he wanted to win himself. The drive for success at the top level kicked in.
    I think Dale is going through a natural cycle of maturity. With all of the distractions that he has had in his life he might be a little farther behind than some at this point but I see the fire there that, if he pulls himself together, could take him to the top.
    I believe that he has the ability. The next step is to figure out the mindset that will work for him in order to keep himself in a place mentally where he can communicate well with the team. Being a driver for Rick Hendrick would have to be the best place in the world for this to happen. Rick Hendrick knows how to bring the best out of people. This is the best thing that could have happened to Dale.
    It’s going to be fun watching him,as I believe will happen, transform into a great driver.

  12. Pingback: The Lead Lap | McGrew’s Words Did Not Lead To Dale Jr’s Rally

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