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Published on July 8th, 2010 | by Michael J Smith


Has Dale Jr Gotten His Mojo Back With N’Wide Win?

For a few hours on Friday night, Dale Earnhardt Jr looked like the Dale Jr of old – confident, dominant, happy. Jr Nation hasn’t seen that version of Dale Jr for quite some time. And to many, it was a welcomed sight.

With about 30 laps to go in the Nationwide Series Subway Jalapeño 250 at Daytona International Speedway, Dale Jr took the lead from Kyle Busch and never looked back. He held off Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, earning his first N’wide win since 2006, and his first NASCAR race since 2008.

A few days removed from Jr’s magical victory, and there is a glimmer of hope in the eye of most, if not every, Dale Jr fan.  “Jr’s got his mojo back. It’s only a matter of time before he gets another Sprint Cup win,” I’m sure many of them are thinking.

But, we need to remember the circumstances under which Dale Jr won that race Friday night.

His intention was never getting a top 10 or a top 5. He came to win. Finishing second wasn’t an option, and he knew it. After winning the race, Jr said:

I was so worried that I wasn’t going to win, ’cause nothing but a win would get it — for everybody. If we didn’t win, what a waste of time. … I worked hard to try to win, not only for daddy — I’m proud of him going to the Hall of Fame, and he would be proud of this, I’m sure — but just all these fans.

While there was certainly pressure there – running the legendary No. 3 Wrangler Chevy his dad made famous – it wasn’t the same kind of pressure that comes with trying to make the Chase and racing for points to guarantee a shot at the Sprint Cup championship.

The pressure from Friday’s race seems to be the kind of pressure that Jr thrives under. He ran the No. 3 before at Daytona, in 2001, and won. He also won the first Cup race at Daytona after his father’s tragic death. That type of pressure stems from the emotions involved, and that’s when Dale Jr shines.

But, the pressures of the Sprint Cup Series are a whole different animal. The pressures of emotions are steeped in fan and team expectations. Those pressures are there in the Sprint Cup, but they’re compounded by the pressure to stay in the top 12 in points and make the Chase, and to ultimately win a championship – an expectation if your last name is Earnhardt.

In the Nationwide race, Dale Jr could race for the win. I’m sure he didn’t want to wreck the car, but in the closing laps of the N’Wide race, he would have been willing to wreck the car if it meant a shot at winning. In the Sprint Cup, he can’t do that. He can’t risk losing points. So, he’s forced to race conservatively.

Other teams have to deal with the same sort of pressure, but Jr’s is magnified by his last name and by the fact that the team has struggled with setups so much that he has to race for good finishes rather than wins.

I’m not questioning Dale Jr’s talent, drive, focus, or even his ability to handle the pressure. All I am saying is that before we start to think the old Dale Jr is back, let’s remember the circumstances under which he won on Friday.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of

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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.

11 Responses to Has Dale Jr Gotten His Mojo Back With N’Wide Win?

  1. ronsracing says:

    Oh there is no problem with his mojo ; Friday just proved what he can do with a good car and good crew chief.

  2. Michael J Smith says:

    Thanks for commenting.

    I’d disagree with you on one point: his mojo. Certainly his confidence is shaky right now because of the way the team is struggling with setups. He isn’t confident that he can get wins right now. That’s why I think he’s focused on good finishes.

    I do agree that with a good car and good CC he can win again. Is Eury Jr the answer? I don’t know. I don’t know that he’s better than McGrew, but it seems that even through the rocky times, he and Eury had something that might be lacking with McGrew. Not sure what it is.

    Might also be a case of, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” I think if they were reunited, they might revert back to how it was towards the end, if given enough time.

    Again, thanks for reading and commenting.

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  4. Clint says:

    Earnhardt/Eury Jr works… when they talk. The problem is they let their feelings get in the way and they stop talking. Those last few races Eury was the #88 crew chief in 2009, Eury said they quit talking a few races before that. I think they are too much alike. While it works while times are good, they suffer when times are bad. Eury Sr on the other hand, had a more dominant personality. I think McGrew has learned Junior and he is talking to him more forcefully now which is what Junior needs.

  5. Marybeth says:

    In Victory Lane on Friday night, Richard Childress looked at us and deliberately said that Jr. has more wins to come. I believe him. He also knows Jr. has not forgotten how to drive and still has the will to win. I have given up on the wins being at HMS. 90 races down and 90 races to go until Jr.‘s term at HMS is up. 🙂 Halfway through and I am beginning to see some light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. 🙂
    I was curious about Jr.‘s saying that he was not doing a burn-out because he wanted to take the engine back to have it analyzed because it was so much better…?
    To those who say the NW race was a fix, if it was, so are JJ’s 4 championships.

  6. Michael J Smith says:

    Thanks for commenting, Marybeth.

    I believe Dale Jr has more wins in him. I am not sold that none of them will be in a Hendrick car. I also am not sold that Jr will leave the team at the end of his contract. I think he’ll honor his contract and make a decision based on how he feels about the team at the time. All of that said, if he’s still performing the way he is now, I highly doubt he’ll be willing to stick around.

    I don’t think the race was fixed either.

    I also suspect that he wanted to take the engine back to the shop to see how they could get that kind of power in the JR Motorsports cars.

  7. Michael J Smith says:

    Thanks for commenting, Clint.

    Can’t say I disagree with you. I think you’re right about the communication between Dale Jr and Tony Jr. I also think that McGrew has learned how he needs to talk to Jr, but sometimes I think he might do more harm than good. Still, right now the results are improving so I can’t say I disagree with LM’s methods.

  8. Matt says:

    None of these things (Mojo, a Nationwide series win, fixed or not) really matter. Dale Jr. is a good guy, but he’s simply a Novelty in a sport that he would likely be a tire changer on Friday nights if it weren’t for his Novelty. He hasn’t dominated and won a race with the best car in 6 years. He has the best equipment and team money can buy. A Nationwide Series Win doesn’t prove anything…its Busch League, triple A baseball, WNBA, insignificant.

  9. Michael J Smith says:

    Thanks for commenting, Matt.

    I do agree that a Nationwide Series win doesn’t mean he will starting winning again in the Sprint Cup Series. But, I also don’t think he’s a novelty. The man has won 18 Sprint Cup races, which shows truly how talented he is. You can’t argue with that. A driver can get lucky and win a race or two in their career, but 18 races is not luck.

    NASCAR is not about dominating — we all know that. The best car doesn’t always win. That’s the way things go in this sport. There’s nothing wrong with that. You just have to put yourself in a position to win, like Jimmie Johnson did at Sonoma.

    I think Dale Jr has good equipment, but he doesn’t have the best team money can buy. I’d imagine, based on performance, Johnson has the best team. You can have good, competitive equipment but if you don’t know how to set it up it makes little difference. That, I think, is why one Hendrick team has always struggled.

    At the end of the day, he is underperforming, yes. But, I’m unwilling to call him a novelty.

  10. Matt says:

    Didn’t mean dominating the circuit, i just meant the last win he had, where he dominated THAT race, had the best car THAT day, and won, was 6 years ago at Bristol.
    10+ years on the circuit, 6 years of which could easily be summarized as “underperforming”…that’s 60% of his career in the Cup series!
    But, that ALONE doesn’t make him a novelty. The fact that he gets more airtime, more attention from the media, and wins the Most Popular Driver Award year after year and is THE most popular driver in the sport, regardless of his lackluster performance. THAT makes him a novelty. Its hard to argue that.
    Very few in the media have the guts to call it like it is. Mainly because of his huge (but shrinking) fan base, and the fact that NASCAR NEEDS Jr. in the sport for it to be successful (make money).

  11. Michael J Smith says:

    You’re entitled to your opinion, but that doesn’t make it right.

    I wasn’t talking about dominating the circuit either. My point was and still is that drivers with dominant cars don’t always win the race. So, it’s more about putting yourself in the position to win than it is about having the dominant car. You need to be in the right place at the right time, and you car needs to be handling well at the right time.

    He does get more airtime, more media attention and is the most popular driver because he has loyal fans. That doesn’t make him a novelty. Some like him because of his father, others like him because they can identify with him — he’s always been who he is, regardless of sponsor, team or anything. I know a lot of fans who like his candor. Fans have a reason they root for him, just as fans of Kyle Busch have a reason they root for him.

    NASCAR needs Jr to be successful, I don’t disagree with that. But that still doesn’t make him a novelty. The fact is, any Dale Jr story gets clicks; fans want to know how Dale Jr is doing — that’s why he receives the media attention he does.

    But, he’s still a talented driver who is and has been struggling. But again, that doesn’t make him a novelty.

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