Earnhardt struggling through another season
CONCORD, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit rock bottom during his last trip to Lowe’s Motor Speedway. He struggled with his car, feuded with his crew chief and finished a season-low 40th in one of the most embarrassing weekends of his career.
Team owner Rick Hendrick fired crew chief Tony Eury Jr. three days after that May debacle, and things were supposed to turn around with some fresh leadership at Earnhardt’s No. 88 team.
It hasn’t happened.
Little has changed, at least in terms of results, in the four-plus months since. Back at LMS for tonight’s race, Earnhardt is slogging through a 51-race winless streak dating back to 2008, his first season with Hendrick Motorsports.
He’s 22nd in the standings, has five top-10s and five DNFs this season, and hasn’t finished higher than 17th in the last six races.
“It’s, like, really encouraging one day, and the next day it’s equally discouraging, and that gets really old,” Earnhardt said Friday. “I’m about to the end of my rope on it.”
Earnhardt seemed deflated as he spoke candidly about a season he has repeatedly characterized as the worst of his career. He said earlier this season that his struggles and the emotional split with Eury, his cousin, weighed heavily on his large family, and Earnhardt doesn’t think he’s mentally strong enough to weather another year this bad.
He could stomach it if there were light at the end of the tunnel, but Earnhardt didn’t seem very encouraged about the progress of his team — particularly when teammates Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon hold three of the top five spots in the standings and are all in contention for the Sprint Cup title.
The three Hendrick cars were predictably stout in yesterday’s qualifying — Johnson and Martin swept the front row — but Earnhardt was 39th and said his team looked “ridiculous.”
Even worse, he doesn’t have any solutions.
“I’ve been riding it out, but there comes a point where you don’t want to ride it out no more. You’ve just had enough,” he said. “It’s been so low. The highs have not been very high, and the lows have been terribly low. That’s hard to want get back up and try again the next week when you take such a beating. I don’t know what else to do.”
• Denny Hamlinis over last week’s crash at Auto Club Speedway when he tried to cut off a hard-charging Juan Pablo Montoya. He just wishes everybody else was too.
“I was doing everything I could and just bit myself,” Hamlin said. “It’s just frustrates you for about two days and then you get over it and then you hear someone say, ‘Hey, man, sorry about last weekend.’ Then you’re like, ‘Well, I forgot about it until you said something.’ ”
• Rusty Wallace has no problem with the five inaugural inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The former champion does wonder if the first Hall class should have been bigger than Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Richard Petty, Junior Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
“How the heck can you just take five?” Wallace said. “When you pick Junior (Johnson), you want to pick (David) Pearson, you want to pick (Cale) Yarborough, you want to pick Bobby Allison.”
• Brad Keselowski is waiting for Penske Racing to hire a crew chief for him in 2010, but he’s been very pleased with the level of interest for the job. Keselowski said employees from Richard Petty Motorsports have inquired about possibilities with the No. 12 team.
• The FIA has asked the two candidates running to succeed Max Mosley as president of motor racing’s governing body to avoid “negative campaigning.” There will be a vote Oct. 23 to determine the winner between former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt of France and ex-world rally champion Ari Vatanen of Finland.